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Report No. 14

8. Powers of a Single Judge.-

We are also of the view that the powers of a judge of the High Court sitting singly should be increased. Under the rules in force at present, a single judge cannot hear first appeals of any valuation and second appeals valued above Rs. 2,000. On the criminal side, a judge of the High Court sitting singly can hear all appeals, references or revisions other than those against sentences of death, transportation for life, penal servitude, forfeiture of property or of imprisonment not being a sentence of imprisonment in default of payment of fine. He cannot hear an appeal under section 476B nor an application under section 520 Cr. P.C. Again, on the civil side, a single judge cannot admit or otherwise dispose of an application under section 115 C.P.C., if the amount or value of subject matter exceeds Rs. 2,000 nor can he deal with an appeal under section 29(a) of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act (XII of 1956) if the appeal is valued above Rs. 2,000.

We recommend the enlargement of the powers of a single judge so as to include first appeals and cross objections valued upto Rs. 10,000 and all second appeals and cross objections irrespective of valuation. We also recommend the enlargement of the criminal jurisdiction of a single judge so as to embrace all types of matters other than those involving sentences of death or transportation for life. The following Table will show the number of first and second appeals of different valuations instituted in the High Court during the triennium ending with the year 1956.

Table No. 8

1954

1955

1956

Regular First Appeals

Below Rs. 5,000

69

85

93

Between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000

101

131

138

Above Rs. 10,000

110

129

114

Regular Second Appeals

Below Rs. 1,000

1131

1255

757

Between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 2,000

157

188

154

Between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 5,000

142

207

110

It will be clear from the above statement that assuming that about 120 second appeals valued above Rs. 2,000 are posted for disposal in a year and that about three such appeals are disposed of per day, by the proposed enlargement of powers of a single judge forty judge days can be saved per year in the time occupied in the disposal of second appeals. Similarly very substantial saving in judge days will also result in the disposal of first appeals and criminal appeals and revisions.

We have dealt elsewhere with views expressed against the enhancement of the powers of a single judge of the High Court. Strong views were expressed against such enhancement by some members of the Bar and Bench. It is true that a Bench of two judges is in some ways better than one. A reluctance to a change in a long established practice is also natural and appreciated. The matter however needs a more realistic approach in view of our changed and changing conditions. The administration of justice has to function in the present setting.

In a number of ways established methods which may be ideal have to yield to practical considerations. We have to face the increased volume of new types of litigation and the accumulated arrears which cannot be dealt with by the old methods even if the strength of the High Court were doubled. Other established High Courts have enhanced the powers of single judges in various directions and the measure has in no way worked any injustice and caused any dissatisfaction. There is no reason to expect that the method which has worked successfully in Madras and Bombay should not work equally well in Calcutta.

9. The appellate jurisdiction of a District Judge in this State has recently been enhanced to Rs. 10,000 but the amendment does not apply to suits instituted prior to its coming into force. It appears to us to be necessary to make the amendment retrospective if the appellate work coming to the High Court is to be reduced. As the number of such appeals pending in the High Court is substantial, we recommend accordingly.

10. We feel compelled to draw attention to some matters which we think have considerably affected the prestige and efficiency of what was once the premier High Court in the country. We could not fail to notice that the selection of the personnel of the Court had suffered owing to adoption of methods which made a number of senior members of the Bar look askance at the judicial office. There would appear also to be a want of cohesion and harmony in the court itself which makes it difficult for its judiciary to work as a united team putting forward its best effort.

"A want of a sense of responsibility" was the expression used by one of the judges themselves to describe the way in which the functions of the court were discharged. Absence of a control of proceedings and unlimited latitude to senior counsel were some of the features brought to our notice. The Court has also the disadvantage of functioning under some archaic rules and procedures. Finally, it appears that there is a complete want of co-operation in administrative and other matters between the court and the State executive. We bring these facts to the notice of the authorities concerned so that measures may be taken which may lead the High Court to function as a High Court should.

11. Presiding Small Causes Court.-

A Court of Small Causes established under the provisions of the Presidency Small Causes Court, 1882, functions within the limits of the Ordinary Original Jurisdiction of the High Court. There is also a Small Causes Court established under the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act at Sealdah in the City of Calcutta. It exercises jurisdiction over the territory comprising the Municipal Corporation of Calcutta excluding the area under the territorial jurisdiction of the Presidency Small Causes Court.

The Presidency Small Causes Court is presided over by six judges including the Chief Judge; the latter is of the rank of a District Judge while the former are of the rank of Subordinate Judges. This Court, among other matters, deals with litigation arising within its territorial jurisdiction for the ejectment of tenants under the Rent Control Act in the case of non-payment of rent upto a maximum of Rs. 5,000 and also hears appeals against the decisions of the Rent Controller. The judges of this Court are also Controllers under the Calcutta Tikha Tenancy Act, 1949.

The High Court has concurrent jurisdiction to entertain Small Cause Suits valued between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 2,000 and under section 39 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act, can transfer such suits to its file. We understand that this section as suggested by us earlier has now been repealed in West Bengal.

In the year 1956, 7,673 suits (2,172 for ejectment and 5,501 Small Cause Suits) were instituted in the Presidency Small Causes Court. The total number of suits available for disposal was 14,199. During the same year, 2,592 ejectment suits and 6,174 small cause suits were disposed of leaving a balance of 5,424 made up of 2,129 suits for ejectment the remaining small cause suits. The file of Court appears to be under control. At the beginning of 1955, the total number of the pending suits was 6,174 whereas at the beginning of 1956 it was 5,424. Nevertheless, the existing arrears some of which relate to suits pending for over a year need to be cleared. For this purpose, in the opinion of the Chief Judge of the Court, one more judge is required for a period of about a year.



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