This Article is written by Varnika Verma student of Chanakya Law College, Kumaun University, Uttarakhand
The Apex Court in the recent case of “Ajit Mohan and Ors. vs. Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory and Ors.” focused on long-lasting oral arguments by lawyers as a noteworthy cause in judicial system in the nation. The Court observed in the case of Facebook-Delhi Assembly, that the courtroom have become “a competing coliseum of who gets to argue for long hours”, the Bench accentuate the requirement of restriction on the time period for arguments by advocates.
The Court also observed that counsels should be coherent on the lineation of their submissions from the formulation of the arguments which is required to be submitted within the frame of synopsis and must strictly follow them.
TIME CONSUMING ARGUMENTS LEAD TO JUDICIAL DELAYS:
The bench of Hon’ble Court has foregrounded in their 11-pointer postscript on “how the proceedings will go on in the future i.e. post COVID period, which is likely to see a surge in the number of cases pending adjudication”.
The Court was hearing a petition wherein the highly used social media platform; Facebook was alleged to add fuel in the violence which took place during the month of February, 2020 with communal riots in different phases of North-East Delhi. The arguments were so long that the hearing of the case took 26 long hours.
While pondering on the case, the Bench elucidate that the above-stated thing was only to commence a discussion among the legal fraternity and to focus on the importance of synopsis that was jotted in advance, and the same must be followed during the argument so, to make the judgment easy to perceive, pinpoint, error-free and meticulous which can be easily understood by the common man that what the law is being laid down.
INDISPENSABLE CONSIDERATIONS BY APEX COURT:
Lawyers must be crystal clear from the very beginning about their submissions of arguments and these submissions should be framed like synopsis and the counsels must strictly stick to them so, to make their arguments in less time.
There should be limited time frame for oral submissions in order to get a speedy and proper administration of justice and also to make judgments precise and clear for easy understanding. This situation has become need of the hour because of COVID.
Due to prolonged arguments, litigants are over-burdened by the baffling and elongating judicial process which can also be encountered from the number of cases pending before the courts across the country. As per the data of May, 2021 the Apex Court alone has 67000+ cases pending.
As a large amount of previous cases are cited the judgments are becoming sophisticated and loquacious.
Due to time taken in routine matters, there is lack of time for the settlement of legal principles before the Hon’ble Bench as a result; it puts a bad impact on the judicial system.
It was recommended that the practice and procedures that are followed internationally can be followed here as well to increase efficiency. The Court also mentioned “Article 06 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the right to a fair trial wherein it is specified that all persons are entitled to a fair and public hearing within reasonable time”. To complete proceedings within reasonable time frame ensures a “productive and systematic judicial system”.
The Bench took a note that the judgments delivered recently were prolonged and complex not because of its complicated nature but because of the large number of precedents that were cited and the essentialism to deal with them. Regarding the use of previous judgments and obiter dicta just to explain a specific point of view, the Hon’ble Judges referred to the case of “R. vs. Erskine & R. vs. Williams” where it was jotted that, “it is necessary not to refer it. Similarly, if it is not necessary to include a previous decision in the bundle of authorities, it is necessary to exclude it; that approach will be rigidly enforced”. The rule laid down here, can be traced in the criminal justice system in U.K.
The legislation of the USA has also emphasized on minuscule and precise arguments, as the Courts were facing large number of frivolous petitions for review that provoked the court to frame restrictive rules, it stated that Rule 28 of the Supreme Court Rules mentions “Unless the Court directs otherwise, each side is allowed 30 minutes for argument”. Further, if either party needs extra time for argument, they had to present it before the date of the argument with the reason why it would be not possible to argue within the time limit allotted.
In the same way the High Court of Australia has framed a limit of 20 minutes each for both the parties to argue with extra 05 minutes to the applicant for rebuttal.
FAILED ATTEMPTS OF INDIAN JUDICIARY:
In the year 1980, the Supreme Court of India tried to limit the time for oral argument and also tried to exclude oral arguments in exceptional cases. Although right to be heard is a recognized principle of justice, but it does not mean that oral hearings are mandatory. The method of “hearing” should depend on multitude factors and future developments.
In 1984 also, 99th Report of the Law Commission considered the issue of time taken in oral arguments and suggested numerous ways to limit the time required for argument. Although no formal amendment of the same was anticipated but the report stated that arguments should be within the reasonable time limit and must be constantly followed.
It’s been 37 years of Law Commission Report but even today the Courts are facing the same issue and how to remove this barrier from court-rooms is still matter of concern. The lengthy arguments are contributing to the delay in judgments and are one of the biggest hurdles before the Court.
The latest calculation shows that Supreme Court has still 69,400+ cases pending whereas; the subordinate courts have almost 14 lakh cases pending.
The chart below shows the average time taken by the courts on various case proceedings, especially in final argument.
Now, it’s high time that some genuine actions must be undertaken to resolve the issue of oral arguments and restricting time limit so, to save the time of the Hon’ble Court as it is rightly said that “time taken in one case delays the justice in the other case and JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED”.
Following measures can also be taken, till the time a specific law on the issue is formulated:
- Selection of worthy cases for oral arguments.
- Informing either parties questions in advance.
- Improvising skills of advocacy.
- Written synopsis of oral arguments.
In the modern day courts, the importance of oral arguments have slightly reduced that have access to sources of information regarding the issues which come in the form of judicial precedents, policy prescriptions, legal and scholarly commentaries, libraries, written submissions of the parties and amicus curie. The time has come to preserve the oral arguments with minimal inherent inefficiencies. No doubt oral arguments also have numerous advantages if it is done right with prepared lawyers and judges and with good case laws.
- Ajit Mohan and Ors. vs. Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory and Ors. WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 1088 OF 2020.
- Article 06, European Convention on Human Rights, 1953.
- Law Commission of India, 99th Report on Oral and Written Arguments in the High Courts, https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/51-100/Report99.pdf
- vs. Erskine  EWCA Crim 1425.
- vs. Williams  1 WLR 183.
- Rule 28, Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States, https://www.supremecourt.gov/ctrules/2019RulesoftheCourt.pdf
- Statistics, Monthly Pending Cases, Types of metters pending in Supreme Court of India as on 01.05.2021, Supreme Court India, https://main.sci.gov.in/statistics