91% of Cases Disposed in 2021 were at Admission Stage
A majority of the SC’s time in 2021 was spent disposing of cases that did not involve a substantial question of law.
Disposal of cases refers to the number of cases that ‘exit’ the Supreme Court (SC). This number gives us an idea of how quickly the SC is making a dent in the startling number of pending cases at the SC. In this post, we track the number of cases that Court disposed of in 2021 at two stages—admission and regular. We then examine what type of cases the Court has spent its time on in the year.
The SC disposes of cases that are at two stages—admission and regular hearing. When a case is first filed at the Supreme Court, it is heard at the ‘admissions’ stage. If the Court finds that the case involves a substantial question of law the case advances to the ‘regular’ hearing stage. At the regular hearing stage, the Court hears arguments from both parties and delivers a decision based on the merits of the case.
The Supreme Court annual reports record disposal of cases at these two stages. It counts cases that the Court did not advance to the regular stage. It then includes regular stage cases where the Court heard final arguments and issued a judgment.
Figure 1 clearly shows that a majority of the SC’s time is spent disposing of cases that do not involve a substantial question of law. 91% of cases disposed of between January and September 2021 were at the admission stage.
In the beginning of 2021, in an attempt to return to normalcy after the first wave of COVID-19, the SC began to gradually return to physical hearings. Between August 2020 to March 2021, the Court allowed partial physical hearings, and only advocates with special passes could enter the Court. In March, the Court opened up hybrid hearing, giving advocates and parties the option of appearing physically or virtually. The total number of cases disposed of in January (2209), February (2478), and March (2479) remained steady.
By April 22nd physical hearings stopped altogether due to the second wave of the pandemic. Affected by the return to online hearings, the total number of cases disposed of in April fell to 1388.
The SC was on summer vacation between May 13th and June 30th. Chief Justice Ramana set up vacation Benches to hear extremely urgent cases on Tuesdays and Fridays. Hence, disposal of cases, although slow, continued through the SC’s summer vacation. In May the SC disposed of 721 cases, and in June it disposed of 880 cases.
Having returned from its summer vacation in July, the Court disposed of 2670 cases. In August, the SC resumed physical hearings, and disposed of 2500 cases. At the end of August 9 new judges were appointed to the SC, bringing the total number of judges to 33. In the following month, disposal was highest (of the data available) at 2982 cases.
*The Data for disposal on the SC website is available till September 2021