Sophistry in court proceedings amounts to negative of justice

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By K Raveendran

The Supreme Court has issued yet another verdict, in which it has shown that when it is time to take sides, it will stand for the common man. In a postscript to its judgment, refusing to strike down the Delhi Assembly’s summons to Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan in the inquiry into the Delhi riots, a three-member bench, comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, stated that the ‘judicial system exists for the common man; and expressed serious concern over the unduly long time taken for arguments, counter-arguments, submissions and other procedures was taking justice away from people who actually deserved it most. The court also stressed the need for judges to write ‘more crisp, clear and precise’ judgments which litigants can understand.

The court’s provocation for rather unusual remarks was the unduly long time of four months taken to pronounce the judgment in the case after it was reserved. The hearing itself lasted 26 hours, which the court described as a ‘lot of judicial time’. The court further said it was consciously bringing up this issue before the legal fraternity so that there could be a debate on ‘the importance of succinctly framed written synopsis in advance, and the same being adhered to in course of oral arguments to be addressed over a limited time period and more crisp, clear and precise judgments so that the common man can understand what is the law being laid down. After all, it is for the common man that the judicial system existed, the court declared.

The court pointed out how the 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, it said and the judges have an equal responsibility to ensure speedy justice, by writing ‘clear and short judgments that the litigants can understand’. It stressed the need to go back to the basics of communication and even referred to the Wren & Martin principles of precis writing.

The judges also expressed themselves against citing voluminous judgments in support of a line of argument, where it could have been avoided without the merit of the argument being affected and were of the view that if the proposition of law is not doubted, there is no need for a precedent unless asked for. In this regard, they pointed out that often references are made to the judgment of the Privy Council or the earlier years of the Supreme Court.

It is a common refrain that sometimes judges write their verdicts as though these are literary works. A well-drafted judgment is, of course, a delight to read and often reflects the personality of the judge who dictates it and it is also true that some of our judges were outstanding writers as well. But this should not become a cause of frustration for the litigants, who often becomes victims of the virtual sophistry in the court proceedings.

In this particular case, the court noted how pleadings, written synopses, additional written synopses, rejoinders and replies filed liberally by both parties led to the undue delay. The convenience compilations themselves were very voluminous, in contradiction to their very purpose. The bench also expressed concern 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.

The judges pointed out that the Supreme Court had 67,898 pending matters as of May 1, 2021, and that the time spent on routine matters leaves little time to settle legal principles pending before larger benches that may have an impact down the line on the judicial system.

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 an 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. 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, the postscript said. (IPA Service)

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