ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Appointment of Judges to the Higher Judiciary during the Pandemic – I

As with most other activities, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the functioning of courts, revealed through the steep drop in the number of cases disposed of during the pandemic. However, there has not been much comment on the functioning of the collegium, which, theoretically, should not be compromised in these circumstances. The performance of the Supreme Court collegium during the pandemic is examined in this column by comparing it with available data for past years.

This is the first part of a two-part series that will examine how the pandemic has affected the process for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. The first part will examine how the Supreme Court collegium has functioned during the pandemic.

Even before the imposition of the nationwide lockdown on 25 March, the Supreme Court cut back on its functioning given the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic that had reached India’s shores by then (ToI 2020). Forced to shut down physical hearings and only hearing a limited number of cases through videoconferencing, the Court’s functioning was dramatically reduced as it sought to hear only “urgent matters.” While there was no clear definition of what constituted “urgent matters,” suffice it to say that these constituted only a small fraction of the cases usually heard by the Court.

An analysis of the Supreme Court’s caseload just for the month of April 2020 by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, when the lockdown was at its peak, showed that only 357 cases were heard in this month (Tripathy and Jain 2020: 17). In contrast, the number of cases heard in April 2019 was 14,381; even though, on paper, the Court worked for 14 days in April 2020, and 19 days in April 2019. The numbers have increased since the lockdown was lifted, but even as of August 2020, the Supreme Court still had not heard as many cases as it did in April 2019 alone.1

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Updated On : 21st Sep, 2020
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