Do SC Judges Write More Judgments in the Summer Break?
SC Judges claim that the Court’s 6-week summer vacation aids judgment writing. We look at data on Judgments written during this period.
Every year, the Supreme Court breaks for summer vacation for six weeks. In addition, the Court goes on holiday for four weeks—Dussehra and Diwali holidays last a week each and the winter break for two weeks. This leaves the Court with 10 weeks of holidays in a year.
The Supreme Court is routinely criticised for taking longer vacations than any other Court in the country. All High Courts take shorter summer breaks. The Bombay, Rajasthan and Delhi High Courts, for example, break for four weeks each. The Andhra Pradesh HC’s summer break lasts 5 weeks while the Himachal Pradesh HC’s summer break lasts for only one week. The Malimath Committee report (2003) and the 230th Law Commission report (2009) have pointed out that long vacations are detrimental to the Court’s efficiency, especially in light of the rising pendency of cases.
Supreme Court Judges are quick to offer an explanation. Chief Justice N.V. Ramana remarked that Judges spend their Court holidays working—conducting research and writing Judgments. Former CJI K.G. Balakrishnan and former SC Justice V. Gopala Gowda have made similar statements—that Judges spend a substantial part of their vacation time writing Judgments.
This year, the Supreme Court broke for summer vacation on May 23rd. It reopened on July 11 and made headlines when it delivered 44 Judgments on the same day. Does the remarkable output on its first day back mean that a post-vacation Supreme Court delivers more judgments? SCO examines this claim by looking at the number of judgments passed in July 2022.
The metrics adopted in this analysis—number of Judgments authored and the length of the Judgments—are not the sole criteria to assess a Judge’s productivity. This analysis does not consider other functions carried out by Judges such as hearings, disposals, research, and administrative tasks.
How Many Judgments Did the Court Deliver After the Summer Break?
Figure 1 depicts the total number of Judgements* delivered by the Supreme Court each month from July 1st 2021 to July 31st 2022. The Supreme Court reopened after summer break on July 1st in 2021 and July 11th in 2022. The analysis in this piece is restricted to the impact of the 2022 summer break on Judgment writing at the Court. However, we examine data from July 2021 to get a better understanding of the Court’s Judgment output throughout the year.
With the exception of August 2021, the period between the 2021 summer break and the 2022 summer reveals a monthly judgment output of over 100 a month. The average number of judgments per month from August 2021 to May 2022 is 114.5 and the median is 117. Dussehra, Diwali and Christmas breaks appear to have had no impact on the Court’s Judgment output over the last 12 months.
In July 2022, the period immediately following the summer break, 24 out of 32 Judges authored 99 Judgments in total. Eight Judges did not author any Judgments during this period. Each judge, on average, authored 4 judgments in July. The median number of Judgments authored per Judge is 3.
Interestingly, in 2021, a similar pattern is observed. A large number of Judgments were expected to be delivered in July, when the Court reopened after the summer break—if we follow the claim that Supreme Court Judges spend the break writing Judgments. However, only 44 Judgments were delivered in July 2021 despite the Court having functioned for the entire month. August 2021 also had a much lower than average Judgment output (59) despite the Court having functioned for the entire month.
Assessing the Post-Summer Judgment Output
We also look into the number of Judgments delivered by each Judge and the length of the Judgments to better understand the Court’s Judgment output. An examination of the number of Judgments delivered by each Judge indicates each Judge’s contribution to the Court’s total Judgment output.
The length of a judgment, by itself, is not an indicator of the quality of a judgment. However, Judgments by the Supreme Court have a precedential value—lower courts, in similar cases, follow the rationale adopted by the SC. Longer judgments tend to have more detailed reasoning making them easier for subordinate courts to follow. In the event a Judgment is challenged in the future, detailed reasoning makes it easier for Benches to uphold or overrule the Judgment.
The total number of pages authored in July is 3,353. The average number of pages per Judgment is 33.87 while the median number of pages is 98.5—which indicates a significant inconsistency in the length of different Judgments delivered by the Court.
Justice M.R. Shah authored 25 Judgments in July 2022—the highest in the month—with an average page length of 21.84. Justice J.K. Maheshwari stands second with 8 Judgments and an average page length of 15.88.
The longest Judgment of July, at 545 pages, was delivered by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar—in the challenges to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). However, the total number of pages in a Judgment often includes the list of all parties to the case, annexures and other attachments. The PMLA Judgment, for example, contains 18 pages that list over 100 other petitions filed against the PMLA.
If the number of Judgments and their page length are considered together to assess the productivity of Judges, Justices A.S. Oka and J.B. Pardiwala come out on top. Justice Oka authored five Judgments with an average page length of 48.8 pages, while Justice Pardiwala authored six Judgments with an average page length of 44.8 pages.
A number of contributing factors make it difficult to quantitatively assess the productivity of Judges. However, for the period following the oft criticised summer vacation in 2022, it is clear that the summer break did not positively impact Judgment writing or ‘delivering’.
*The data relied upon in this analysis is obtained from the Supreme Court of India’s website. The total number of Judgments have been manually counted and verified. Granular data on authorship and length of Judgments has been collated manually from the data provided by the Supreme Court.