Supreme Court’s Call for Accountability: Shared Responsibility Among Courts, Lawyers, and Litigants in Addressing Court Delays

Court delays have been a big problem in India for a long time. These delays make it hard for people to get justice quickly and add to the pile of cases waiting to be resolved. On June 7, 2024, the Supreme Court of India talked about this issue during a special session. The case they discussed was a civil appeal that had been filed back in 2017. The Supreme Court, with Justices PV Sanjay Kumar and Prasanna B Varale, pointed out that it is not just the courts that cause these delays. Lawyers and the people involved in the cases also play a part. This discussion helped highlight the bigger issues in the system that need to be fixed to make the courts work better.

History of Court Delays in India and Attempts to Address the Issue

  • High Number of Cases Filed: The sheer volume of cases filed every day overwhelms the courts. In India, a significant number of cases are filed daily across various courts. On average, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 new cases are registered each day. This immense volume contributes to the backlog and delays in the judicial system, emphasizing the need for effective measures to enhance the efficiency of case handling.
  • Insufficient Number of Judges: There are not enough judges to handle the growing number of cases. To ensure timely resolution of cases in Indian courts, experts suggest that a substantial increase in the number of judges is necessary. Currently, there is an estimated shortage of around 5,000 to 6,000 judges across various levels of the judiciary in India. Appointing this additional number of judges would significantly alleviate the burden on the existing judiciary and help speed up case disposal.
  • Frequent Adjournments: Lawyers often request adjournments, delaying proceedings.
  • Complex Procedures: Legal procedures are often lengthy and complicated, causing delays.
  • Lack of Infrastructure: Many courts lack the necessary infrastructure to handle cases efficiently.
  • Delay Tactics by Litigants: Sometimes, litigants intentionally delay cases for various strategic reasons.
  • Pending Vacancies: Many judicial positions remain unfilled, adding to the burden on the existing judges.

Previous Attempts to Address the Issue

Efforts to address delays in Indian courts include increasing the number of judges, establishing fast-track courts for specific cases, promoting alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation, digitizing court processes, simplifying legal procedures, promptly filling judicial vacancies, and providing additional training for judges and lawyers. These initiatives aim to reduce the backlog, expedite case resolution, and enhance the overall efficiency of the judicial system.

As of 2023, the backlog in Indian courts presents a significant challenge, with over 70,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court of India and approximately 5.9 million cases pending across various High Courts. These staggering figures highlight the pressing need for reforms to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system in India. Urgent measures are required to address this backlog, expedite case resolution, and ensure timely delivery of justice to the citizens.

The role of lawyers in contributing to court delays is significant and multifaceted, encompassing various aspects that impact the efficiency of legal proceedings:

Role of Lawyers in Court Delays and Lawyers Seeking Frequent Adjournments:

Lawyers often seek adjournments for various reasons, such as needing more time for preparation, waiting for key witnesses, or addressing personal or professional conflicts. While adjournments can sometimes be necessary for fair and just proceedings, frequent requests for adjournments can lead to significant delays in case hearings. This practice not only affects the scheduling of court sessions but also prolongs the overall duration of legal processes, contributing to the backlog of cases.

  • Senior Lawyers’ Absence and Its Impact: The absence of senior lawyers, especially those who play pivotal roles in case arguments and strategies, can significantly impact case timelines and outcomes. Senior lawyers often bring expertise, experience, and strategic insights that are crucial for advancing legal arguments effectively. When senior lawyers are unavailable due to other commitments or reasons, it can lead to delays as junior lawyers may not have the same level of experience or authority to proceed with certain aspects of the case.
  • Justice Kumar’s Remarks on the Responsibility of Lawyers: Justice Kumar has emphasized the responsibility of lawyers in ensuring the smooth and timely conduct of court proceedings. His remarks underscore the importance of lawyers being well-prepared, diligent, and proactive during hearings. Justice Kumar has pointed out that lawyers have a duty to avoid unnecessary delays and disruptions in court, as these delays not only affect the specific case at hand but also contribute to the overall backlog of cases in the judicial system. By being responsible and mindful of their role in the legal process, lawyers can help expedite case resolutions and improve the efficiency of the justice delivery system.

Justice Kumar’s remarks on the responsibility of lawyers in court delays are notable. He questioned the practice of seeking adjournments excessively, stating, “Why do you not argue for him? Are you not attached to his office? Do you not read office pleadings?” This highlights the expectation for lawyers to be adequately prepared and engaged in court proceedings, avoiding unnecessary delays.

Additionally, Justice Kumar expressed frustration at the impact of delays caused by lawyers, stating, “After 2019, this matter is coming up now. The lawyers are not ready to argue. What is this? Yesterday we sat till 12:30 PM and today I do not even think we would be able to sit till 12. Then courts are blamed for delay.” This reflects the judiciary’s concern regarding the responsibility of lawyers in contributing to case delays.

Furthermore, Justice Kumar’s remarks were reinforced by Justice Prasanna B Varale, who emphasized the need for junior lawyers to step up in the absence of senior colleagues, especially during vacation hearings. He stated, “The youngsters must take this advantage when their seniors are doing holiday abroad. These remarks collectively underscore the judiciary’s expectation for lawyers to play a proactive and responsible role in court proceedings, avoiding unnecessary delays and contributing to the efficient dispensation of justice.

Role of Litigants in Court Delays

Litigants also play a significant role in contributing to court delays, often causing disruptions and prolonging legal proceedings. Some examples of litigant-induced delays include:

  • Frivolous Petitions and Appeals: Litigants may file frivolous petitions or appeals without substantial legal merit, leading to unnecessary delays in court proceedings. These cases often consume valuable court time and resources, contributing to the backlog of cases.
  • Non-attendance or Non-cooperation: Some litigants fail to attend court hearings or cooperate with the legal process, resulting in adjournments and rescheduling of hearings. This lack of cooperation further extends the duration of case resolutions.
  • Filing Multiple Applications and Motions: Litigants may file multiple applications, motions, or interlocutory appeals, seeking repeated reliefs or interventions, which can prolong the legal process and cause delays in reaching a final resolution.
  • Challenging Procedural Matters: Litigants may engage in challenging procedural matters, such as challenging jurisdiction or filing frequent procedural objections, leading to additional court hearings and delays in case disposal.

These examples illustrate how litigants’ actions can contribute to court delays, highlighting the importance of responsible and cooperative participation in the legal process to ensure timely and efficient resolution of disputes.

Justice PV Sanjay Kumar and Justice Prasanna B Varale’s Remarks

The observations made by the Vacation Bench on June 7, 2024, included:

  • Highlighting the often-overlooked role of lawyers and litigants in contributing to delays in case disposals, despite courts typically bearing the brunt of such criticisms.
  • Questioning lawyers about their readiness to argue in place of absent colleagues and urging young lawyers to seize opportunities to argue cases, especially during vacation hearings when senior lawyers may be unavailable.
  • Expressing frustration at delays caused by unprepared lawyers, emphasizing the need for responsible conduct and proactive participation in court proceedings to avoid unnecessary adjournments and disruptions.
  • Encouraging junior lawyers to step up and take advantage of opportunities to argue cases, particularly when their seniors are absent, to ensure the smooth progress of legal proceedings and expedite case resolutions.

Impact on Judicial Efficiency

The impact of lawyers and litigants on judicial efficiency is significant, with several key factors contributing to inefficiency:

  • Contribution of Lawyers and Litigants to Inefficiency: Lawyers and litigants contribute to inefficiency through frequent adjournments, lack of preparedness, non-cooperation, filing frivolous petitions, and challenging procedural matters. These actions prolong legal proceedings, consume valuable court resources, and contribute to the backlog of cases.
  • Potential Solutions Suggested by the Supreme Court:

   The Supreme Court has suggested potential solutions to improve judicial efficiency, including:

  1. Encouraging responsible conduct by lawyers and litigants to avoid unnecessary delays.
  2. Implementing fast-track courts for specific case types to expedite resolutions.
  3. Promoting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms like mediation and arbitration.
  4. Digitizing court processes to streamline procedures and reduce paperwork.
  5. Simplifying legal procedures to make the judicial system more accessible and efficient.
  • Long-term Benefits of Reducing Delays:

   Reducing delays in court proceedings has long-term benefits, including:

  1. Enhancing public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
  2. Improving access to justice for litigants, particularly those in need of timely resolutions.
  3. Alleviating the burden on the judiciary and reducing the backlog of pending cases.
  4. Facilitating faster dispute resolutions and promoting a more efficient justice delivery system overall.

Foreign Courts’ Views on Court Delays and How foreign courts handle similar issues

Here are some examples of countries and their respective legal measures to address delay cases:

United States:

  • Case Management Conferences: Courts schedule conferences to manage case timelines, address issues, and set deadlines.
  • Pretrial Orders: Courts issue orders detailing pretrial procedures, discovery timelines, and trial schedules.
  • Summary Judgment Motions: Parties can file motions for summary judgment to resolve issues without a full trial, expediting case resolutions.

United Kingdom:

  • Case Management Directions: Courts issue specific directions to manage cases efficiently, including setting timelines for filings and hearings.
  • Costs Sanctions: Courts may impose costs sanctions on parties causing delays or engaging in frivolous litigation.
  • Judicial Case Management: Judges actively manage cases, set deadlines, and encourage parties to resolve disputes swiftly.


  • Case Management Hearings: Courts conduct hearings to discuss case progress, resolve issues, and set trial dates.
  • Costs Orders: Courts can order parties responsible for delays to pay costs, incentivizing timely case management.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Encouragement of mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes outside of court, reducing case backlogs.


  • Case Management Rules: Courts have specific rules governing case management, including deadlines for pleadings, motions, and discovery.
  • Case Conferences: Judges conduct conferences to discuss case progress, resolve disputes, and set timelines.
  • Early Case Evaluation: Parties may opt for early case evaluation to assess strengths and weaknesses, facilitating settlement negotiations.

These countries’ legal systems employ various measures such as case management conferences, strict timelines, costs sanctions, and alternative dispute resolution to mitigate delays, expedite case resolutions, and enhance judicial efficiency.

Lessons India Can Learn from These Practices: India can glean valuable lessons from the practices of foreign courts in addressing court delays. Firstly, adopting specialized courts for certain case categories could expedite case resolutions and reduce backlog in critical areas. Implementing robust alternative dispute resolution mechanisms encourages parties to seek timely settlements outside of traditional court proceedings, easing the burden on the judicial system. Embracing digitization initiatives enables faster document processing, remote hearings, and efficient case tracking, leading to improved judicial efficiency. Moreover, learning from procedural reforms in foreign jurisdictions, such as strict adherence to timelines, reduced adjournments, and effective case management practices, can help India streamline its legal processes, enhance transparency, and ensure timely justice delivery.

The Supreme Court’s stance on addressing court delays emphasizes the crucial role of responsible conduct and efficient case management in the legal system. The observations made by the Vacation Bench, particularly regarding the contributions of lawyers and litigants to delays, highlight the need for proactive measures to expedite case resolutions and improve judicial efficiency.

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