Court Data

Supreme Court Registry increasing in Size

There is no clear correlation between increase in the size of Supreme Court registry and decrease in the number of pendency.

Every year, the Supreme Court of India publishes an Annual Report. Among various other information, these annual reports also track the staff size of the Court’s Registry, the administrative wing of the Court.

As of 16 November 2019, the Registry has a total of 2577 staff. This is broken down into 334 Gazetted Officers, 1117 non-Gazetted officials and 1126 non-clerical staff.

These staff manage a range of tasks from maintaining case files to translating judgments. They report to the Secretary General of the Registry (usually a judicial officer of the rank of District and Sessions Judge), who in turn reports to the Chief Justice of India.

Since 2006, when the first Annual Report was published, the Registry has increased in size by more than 46%.

Does this increase in staff size correlate to an increase in number of judges?

The increase in staff has corresponded to an increase in the sanctioned strength of the Court. The sanctioned strength defines the total number of judges that the Supreme Court may have. In the past two decades, Parliament has amended the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 twice – once in 2009 and then again in 2019. The sanctioned strength now stands at 34 judges, including the Chief Justice of India.

As the Figure 1 shows, the major hikes in staff size roughly correspond to increases in sanctioned strength. In 2009, the Registry hired 115 more staff, the same year that Parliament increased the Court’s sanctioned strength from 26 to 31 judges. More notably, in 2019, the Registry increased in size by 290 staff, just as the sanctioned strength went from 31 to 34 judges.

No data available between 2010 and 2013 due to lack of Annual Reports

It is possible that this increase in number of judges has placed greater demands on the Registry, contributing to the need for more staff.

Does the increase in staff size correlate to changes in pendency?

When Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi wrote to the Prime Minister in June 2019, requesting an increase in sanctioned strength, the main reason he gave was high pendency. At the time, more than 58,000 cases were pending before the Supreme Court. Over the previous decade, pendency had increased by roughly 16%. Chief Justice Gogoi reasoned that if the Supreme Court had more judges, it would be able to more efficiently dispose of cases.

Perhaps various Chief Justices have applied this same reasoning to the Registry: if only the Registry had more staff, we could more efficiently dispose of cases. As Figure 2 shows, the increase in staff size has roughly corresponded to the increase in pendency. However, when pendency decreased between 2014 and 2017, the staff size remained the same.

No data available between 2010 and 2013 due to lack of Annual Reports

While changes in pendency may affect the Registry’s hiring practices, it is unclear whether changes in the Registry’s staff-size would, in turn, affect pendency. Even if we assume that a larger Registry is more efficient, it remains that a larger Registry would likely equally increase filing and disposal rates. In other words, a stronger Registry can equally facilitate more efficient filing, as it can more efficient disposal. If filing and disposal rates change by the same amount, then pendency will remain the same. Disposal has to overtake filings, for pendency to decrease.

Hence, we shouldn’t look to the Registry’s staff size alone to make any predictions about pendency. It is true that increases in pendency may cause the Chief Justice to demand for more administrative staff. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that more staff will decrease the number of pending cases.