Condolences: A practice in desperate need of revision

In light of pendency data, it becomes important to rethink some of the practices which are avoidable and can save as much judicial time as possible.

The system of condolences needs significant revamping and is a major hindrance to the justice system’s functioning. We are in the second month of 2023, and the Jharkhand High Court has already witnessed three condolences.

In the Jharkhand High Court, condolences are held every Friday to mourn the death of a lawyer or judge of the Court, which means no judicial work after 1:15 pm.

In my previous article about condolences and strikes, I argued that they took place too often and were too selective. To further describe why the system needs a change, I specifically analyse the time lost by the Jharkhand High Court in 2022 because of condolences. 

Friday is an important day in the Court, as it is the only day fixed for hearing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and tied-up cases. Tied-up cases are those which are listed before the same bench that earlier decided the case. For example, if the bail application of Mr X was rejected by a judge in 2021 and he files a fresh bail plea in 2022, it will again be listed before the same judge (unless transferred or retired).

Out of 52 Fridays in 2022, 11 fell during vacation or holidays, leaving a total of 41 working Fridays. Out of those, condolences were held on 13 Fridays, almost a third of the working Fridays. Out of 4 working Fridays in January, condolences have been held on 3. The time lost is substantial. 

As per data on the National Judicial Data Grid, a total of 86,806 cases (last checked on February 3, 2023) are pending before the Jharkhand High Court. Out of these, 15,331 cases are pending for the last 10-20 years, 1,497 cases for the last 20-30 years and 44 cases for more than 30 years. Cases pending for more than 10 years constitute approximately 18% of the total cases pending before the High Court.

While condolences are not solely to blame, a small change in the system can help reduce some burden. For example, recent efforts to reduce the backlog of cases by other High Courts show the importance of these small changes. The Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court highlighted that holding court for an additional 30 minutes can lead to a consequential increase in the disposal of cases. A similar effort was taken in May 2022 by the Patna High Court to tackle the issue of pending bail applications.

In light of this data, it becomes important to rethink some of the practices which are avoidable and can save as much judicial time as possible. While I certainly mean no disrespect for the departed souls and the importance of paying them respect, there can be ways to save time. For example, resuming judicial work after paying respect, or meeting at 4 pm and calling off judicial work for the remaining day are equally dignified ways to honour our former colleagues. 

Shailesh Poddar is an Advocate practising in the Jharkhand High Court.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news