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

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Pendency during the Pandemic

Twelve months after measures to fight COVID-19 forced courts in India to suspend in-person hearings and move online, the Supreme Court finds itself facing increased pendency and demands to restart in-person hearings. Apart from the increased backlog, the Court also finds itself with fewer judges and no immediate nominations in the pipeline to fill the gaps. The incoming Chief Justice of India will therefore have to address a range of issues that fundamentally affect the Court’s basic functioning.

Even before the imposition of a national lockdown on 24 March 2020 to fight the spread of COVID-19 in India, the Supreme Court of India had started taking measures to limit the gathering of people indoors.1 While only “urgent matters” were being heard initially during the lockdown (Tripathi and Jain 2020), as restrictions eased and lawyers and judges alike grew more comfortable with online hearings, the number of cases being heard by the Court increased likewise. A recent press release issued by the Supreme Court on the occasion of the 71st anniversary of its first sitting noted that the Court was functional for 231 days in the calendar year 2020; beyond the usual minimum of 190 days (Bar and Bench 2021). The press release also notes that the Court had held 43,713 hearings through videoconferencing as of 31 December 2020.

While the efforts of the judges, lawyers and the Supreme Court registry are com­mendable, one must examine whether this avoided the piling up of the backlog of cases. Since 2012, the Court has been putting out monthly statements on the number of cases pending in the Court2 and one can assess if the measures were sufficient to prevent the piling up of cases. Comparing the pendency position between 1 March 2020 and 1 March 2021 should tell us how the Court’s measures to function in the time of COVID-19 have fared. Likewise, comparing this data for the previous year will also give context to the Court’s performance.

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Updated On : 22nd Mar, 2021
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