Does the SC’s working strength affect its case disposal?
The relationship between the SC’s working strength and case disposals shows no discernible trend.
On August 8th, 2019, the Parliament passed the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019, raising the sanctioned strength of the SC to 34 Judges. The Bill’s Statement of Objects and Reasons quotes former CJI Ranjan Gogoi: ‘inadequate strength of Judges is one of the prime reasons for backlog of cases in the SC.’ Three years later, the SC changed its stance—increasing the number of Judges was not the solution to the Court’s pendency problem.
The legislation assumed that more Judges lead to more cases being cleared. But has this assumption held true?
A quick glance at the figure above indicates the opposite. In 2016, the SC had an average working strength of 26 judges and disposed of 75,979 cases. Two years later, in 2018, the SC’s working strength dropped by 1 to 25. In the same year, the SC’s annual case disposals halved to 37,470 cases.
The SC’s average working strength rose to 34 judges (approx.10% increase) in 2019. In the same year, the Court’s annual case disposals numbered 41,100. The lowest disposal rates were seen in 2020 (20,670) and 2021 (24,586 cases)—easily explained by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Setting aside the pandemic years, data in 2022 still starkly contrasts the claim that more judges results in more disposals. Notably, the SC recorded a relatively low disposal figure of 29,109 cases in 2022 despite having an average of 31 sitting judges in the year.
Increasing judge tenure lengths may offer a better solution to reducing the SC’s perpetually growing backlog. Former Justice L.N. Rao stated that newly appointed judges take “1.5 to 2 years to understand how the Court function”. With the SC’s sanctioned strength having quadrupled over the last 7 decades while its average Judge tenure length decreased, perhaps the Court must look for answers in a new direction.