‘Judicial System Exists For Common Man’: Supreme Court Emphasizes The Need To Write Short & Clear Judgments & Restrict Time For Oral Submissions

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Case: Ajit Mohan Vs. Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory Of Delhi

Coram: Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Hrishikesh Roy

Case No: [WPC 1088 OF 2020]

Court Observation: “Daily time period was recorded. Apart from pleadings, there were written synopses, additional written synopses, rejoinders and replies filed liberally by both parties. The convenience compilations themselves were very voluminous, in contradiction to their very purpose. Our concern is if this is how the proceedings will go on in the future, it will be very difficult to deal with the post COVID period, which is likely to see a surge in the number of cases pending adjudication.” Counsels must be clear on the contours of their submissions from the very inception of the arguments. This should be submitted as a brief synopsis by both sides and then strictly adhered to.

Much as the legal fraternity would not want, restriction of time period for oral submissions is an aspect which must be brought into force. We really doubt whether any judicial forum anywhere in the world would allow such time periods to be taken for oral submissions and these be further supplemented by written synopsis thereafter. Instead of restricting oral arguments it has become a competing arena of who gets to argue for the longest time.

The norms and the traditions take care of the requirement of restrictive time frames to address submissions; which are preceded by the contours of arguments given in the written synopsis and the material sought to be relied upon. We do not doubt that lawyers think on their feet but then given the current milieu, there has to be clarity before the lawyers get on their feet keeping a little leeway in mind for something which may evolve during the arguments.

Delay in judicial proceedings has been the bane of our country and there cannot be a refusal to part ways from old practices especially when they have outlived their purpose. It is the litigants who bear the costs of our complex and prolonged adjudicatory process. We are conscious of the equal responsibility of this side of the bench – it is the need of the hour to write clear and short judgments which the litigant can understand.

The Wren & Martin principles of precis writing must be adopted. But then how is this to be achieved if the submissions itself go on for hours on end with vast amounts of material being placed before the Court; with the expectation that each aspect would be dealt with in detail failing which review applications will be filed (not that they are not filed otherwise!) We are weighed down by judicial precedent. Often a reference is made to the judgment of the Privy Council or the earlier years of the Supreme Court, which saw short and crisp judgments but then, the volume of precedents we face today was not present then.

In a technological age like ours, all that is required is to instruct the junior counsel to take out all judgments on a particular point of view and submit it to the court in a nice spiral binding. On every aspect there may be multiple judgments. In our view if the proposition of law is not doubted by the Court, it does not need a precedent unless asked for. If a question is raised about a legal proposition, the judgment must be relatable to that proposition – and not multiple judgments. The other scenario is if the facts of the cited judgments are so apposite to the facts of the case that it could act as a guiding principle.

The contribution to the development of law can be nurtured by comprehensible precedent. There may be times when the complexity of matters gives rise to complex opinions. But we find that judgments are becoming more complex and verbose only on account of large number of precedents cited and the necessity to deal with them and not merely refer to them as is done in other countries.

Another matter of concern is prolonged interim proceedings. In criminal matters, even bail matters are being argued for hours together and at multiple levels. The position is no different in civil proceedings where considerable time is spent at interim stage when the objective should be only to safeguard the rights of the parties by a short order, and spend the time on the substantive proceedings instead which could bring an end to the lis rather than on the interim arrangement. In fact, interim orders in civil proceedings are of no precedential value. This is the reason it is said that we have become courts of interim proceedings where final proceedings conclude after ages- only for another round to start in civil proceedings of execution.


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