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In an order passed yesterday, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has put an end to the past practice of separate Court timings for summer and winter sessions of the Courts
In an order passed yesterday, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice put an end to the past practice of separate Court timings for summer and winter sessions for Courts in the erstwhile State.
Taking into account views put forward by High Court and District Judges, an administrative order passed by Chief Justice Gita Mittal reads,
"Looked at from all aspects, any practice which reduces court timings from the required five hours, or results in wastage of court time, cannot be permitted. The practice in erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir to change court timings for five months from May to October and from November to end of April in Jammu and Kashmir each year is not justifiable."
Chief Justice Gita Mittal
The order further states that with effect from June 1, the High Court, as well as District Courts of Jammu & Kashmir & Ladakh, shall follow uniform timings all year round.
It was noted that the High Court had been following the colonial practice of change of timings of court functioning, whereby it functioned only for four and a half hours depending on the season.
In summers, (from May to end of September), the Jammu and Srinagar Wings of the High Court and the District Courts in the Summer Zones of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir functioned from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm.
Similarly, the Srinagar Wing of the High Court and District Courts in the Winter Zone functioned from 11 am till 4 pm from November to end of April.
Holding that the above is not permissible, Chief Justice Mittal has passed the new schedule for Court timing, which states that the Court working hours (on the judicial side) now stand modified to 10 am till 4 pm for the Jammu Wing and from 10.30 am till 4.30 pm for Kashmir & Ladakh, applicable all round the year.
The order was passed based on the following reasons.
Weather conditions in J&K not exceptional to justify change of timings
Chief Justice Mittal noted that the past Summer schedule followed from the end of April to the end of September every year, were "way beyond what is considered as summer in any part of the country".
Similarly, even the winter schedule followed from the beginning of November to end of April were beyond the actual winter season.
The order observed that the timings of Courts all over the country, except in the Rajasthan, remained uniform all round the year, despite the extreme weather conditions. It was pointed out that the only reason for a variation in Court timings of the Rajasthan High Court was due to its extreme weather conditions during summers in the State.
While observing that such variable timings were not required for Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, Chief Justice Mittal also noted,
"Given the proximity of the Summer Zone districts to the Winter Zone Districts in Jammu and Kashmir with high mountaineous features, the temperatures anywhere in the Union Territory do not reach the high levels as are reached in several other parts of the country. Even if they rise, the Summer Zone Districts have an added advantage of expeditious lowering or temperatures, on account of their proximity to the mountains."
The Court further took note f that there was no change of court timing in the Himalayan States of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim, which experience similar weather conditions as the Kashmir winter.
Loss of court working time and inefficiency in the present system
Referring to the District Courts in Jammu and Kashmir functioning from 8:30 to 1:30 following the Summer timings, the Court held that reducing the court working hours to four and a half hours, instead of the mandatory five hours, for five months at a stretch every year is not justifiable.
The Court was further told that in courts posted in a Summer Zone district, which lay predominantly in rural areas, the litigants were rarely able to reach the courts early in the mornings.
As a result, the courts in these districts are compelled to ordinarily pass over cases till after 9.30 am awaiting the appearance of parties/lawyers. Two hours of precious judicial time on each working day was completely wasted, the Court noted. In this view, it was held,
"The resultant loss of court time and the inefficiency introduced by the change in timings justifies maintenance of uniform timings."
Lack of cohesion in working between the two regions
The order also emphasizes on the lack of cohesion between the two wings of the High Court that function during separate hours.
"It has been pointed that from the months of May to October, on account of the differential working hours of the two Wings of the High Court, it is almost impossible to conduct administrative meetings of the High Court judges; to complete compilation of data from the two Wings of High Court and District Courts which, in some cases, are required to be transmitted urgently to the Supreme Court and government."
Difficulties faced by lawyers, litigants, Court staff
The order points out that early morning court hours during summers cause a lot of trouble to the lawyers, litigants and the court staff, especially to those who are coming from remote areas, to reach the High Court due to the absence of public transport.
Further, it was highlighted that the Summer timings of the Courts coincided with the timings of schools and academic institutions, causing "tremendous pressure" on families.
This apart, the Court was informed that on the basis of a Government Order dated August 13, 2018, the government had put an end to the practise of change of timing. Keeping this in mind, it was held
"The fact that the Government itself has done away with the practice of change of timing is extremely pertinent. The very basis for change of timings by courts has been taken away."
The order further pointed out that it would be difficult to hear matters involving the Government as one of the parties, if the court timing and the timing of the Government functions are not synchronized.
Ultimately, Chief Justice Mittal observes that, "The change of timing brings inefficiency into judicial functioning, reduces court sitting time and is not in the best interest and welfare of the lawyers, litigants, court staff and negatively impacts valuable constitutional rights of litigants."
In view of these grounds, the Court timings have now been revised to ensure five hours of working.