One of the best things to have happened immediately after the swearing in of Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the Chief Justice of India on Wednesday was the clear indication about his determination to end at least a few factors that have exacerbated the law’s delay in India. His first target was “oral mentioning” of unlisted issues for “urgent” hearing. He said he would agree to oral mentioning only if someone was being killed, hanged or evicted. “If somebody is going to be killed, evicted or hanged today (emphasis ours), only such cases will be entertained to list them urgently,” Justice Ranjan Gogoi told a packed hall, sitting in a bench with Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K.M.Joseph. Oral mentioning is a condemnable practice that has long endured in our high courts and the Supreme Court. It is the practice of advocates seeking early listing of their cases citing “urgency”. Oral mentioning is done only in the Chief Justice’s court where the advocates orally make the plea and the bench passes orders for early listing. One could well ask why this is being objected to, since it is a way of expediting cases that might have been heard much later. The point to note is that while there might be some cases referred to in oral mentioning that deserve to have an early hearing in public interest, there are many more instances of cases that do not have any public interest or cases not relating to someone about to be killed, hanged or evicted that manage to jump the queue through oral mentioning generally by senior advocates with much influence. And this has invariably resulted in cases much lower down in the list being taken up for hearing well ahead of cases higher up on the list. Apart from being an unjust dispensation, this practice has the effect of delaying cases which should have been heard earlier than those that managed to secure an unfair advantage through the practice of oral mentioning. Thus speeding up the hearing of some cases out of turn only serves to increase the delay in the hearing of other cases that had precedence on the list. The Chief Justice of India also made it clear that he was determined to end the common practice of “passover” pleas made by junior advocates on behalf of their seniors. The practice of “passover” is resorted to by junior advocates when their seniors are at some other court and have failed to be present in the high court concerned or the Supreme Court in time for their cases. The new Chief Justice of India told a lady advocate on Wednesday that he would brook no passover in his court. He asked her to argue the case herself instead of waiting for her senior. In addition to these two initiatives, the Chief Justice of India has told advocates that he and his colleagues are working out some parameters on dealing with mentioning matters in a few days. What is significant is that we now have a Chief Justice of India deeply concerned about factors that contribute to the law’s delay and who is doing everything possible to ensure that the law’s delay can be cut down drastically and the huge number of pending cases can be tried and verdicts delivered within a reasonable span of time. What is urgently needed in India is quicker verdicts on court cases. The present trend of people taking the law in their own hands is largely the outcome of the law’s inordinate delay where civil cases involving property or matrimonial disputes can decades to be heard and judgement delivered. The new Chief Justice of India will reap immense goodwill and respect if he can mend the law’s delay in our country even partially.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi : Mending the Law’s Delay