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Report No. 14

10. Supervision and Control of Subordinate Courts

1. Need for and importance of supervision.-

In the earlier chapters, we have seen that apart from the inadequacy of judicial officers, the main clause of delay in all courts-a civil and criminal, original or appellate is not the defective procedure, but the failure of the two arms of judicial administration, the Bench and the Bar to follow the prescribed procedure, and the adoption by them of unsystematic and dilatory methods of work. These defects are capable of being remedies by the exercise of a continuous vigilance on the part of the superior courts-which will ensure the adoption of proper methods of work.

Our survey has also shown us that when adequately supervised, the courts in our country can under the existing procedure dispose of proceedings expeditiously. This is demonstrated by the experience of States where a strict system of methodical supervision obtains. The importance and the need for adequate supervision and control cannot therefore be over-emphasized.

For its efficient working, our system of administration of justice depends almost wholly upon two elements, the Bench and the Bar. The ideal of quick, but not hasty, justice can only be realised if there is complete co-operation between these two elements.

2. Methods of supervision (Reviews and inspection).-

The members of subordinate judiciary are under the rigid control of a hierarchy of superior courts, including the High Court. The subordinate courts have periodically to submit progress reports of the work disposed of and pending disposal in their courts. These reports are supposed to be reviewed in detail by the superior courts which in their turn are charged with the duty of seeing that causes are not unnecessarily delayed are that such procedural steps as would expedite the hearing and disposal of cases, are promptly taken. District judges are expected to inspect courts under their charge from time to time. High Court Judges also inspect the district court and other courts. These measures are prescribed to ensure that subordinate courts are vigilant and spare no effort on their part to render justice speedily.

3. Minimum standards of work.-

Such a system of supervision, effectively worked, would keep the judiciary continually alive to the need of urgency in the disposal of their work. In some States, minimum-Standards of work are prescribed-and every judicial officer strives to see, that his output does not fall short of the standard fixed by the High Court. Though it may be doubted whether a strict adherence to quantitative disposal is desirable in the interests of quality, it has to be conceded that a system of supervision and inspection does result in judges not being left without the guidance or control of the superior authority. The existence of such control is a salutary check on the vagaries of the individual officer.

4. Adequate disposals (Tendency to adjourn heavier cases).-

Under such ceaseless scrutiny, it is not surprising, that the majority of judicial officers should turn out the required quantum of work and that the delay in the disposal of a certain percentage of the cases is not attributable wholly to any slackness on their part. It is true, that there is a tendency to take up easier cases first and adjourn heavier cases. But with the exercise of some strictness and care by the superior courts this can be avoided. Unfortunately, many courts are driven to this course by reasons over which they have no control, such as, a heavy file, absence of witnesses, want of readiness of the parties and not the least important, unpreparedness of counsel as well.

5. Quantitative tests (Their limitations).-

We have referred above to what we have called the quantitative tests of work. Though such tests are necessary and fulfil an important purpose, a blind reliance on them which has been found to prevail in several States is likely to defeat their very purpose. Insistence merely on the disposal of certain number of matters frequently results in the heavier matters being put aside. The files become cluttered with old cases all of which are heavy matters and which are passed on untouched from judge to judge. Iralso often results in disposals without a fair or adequate hearing of the matters.

6. Methods of control.-

Control over subordinate courts is principally exercised in the following ways:

(i) Submission and scrutiny of periodical returns

(ii) Inspections.

(iii) Appraisal of the quality of work of the subordinate courts at the time of the hearing of appeals, revisions and other proceedings by superior courts.

7. Scrutiny of periodical returns (Distribution of work) (Year old cases to be explained) (Return showing year of institution).-

Most of the High Courts have prescribed periodical returns (on the lines found in the administration reports) setting out the number of cases instituted, number of cases disposed of and the number of cases pending, to be submitted by the subordinate courts. These statements indicate generally the state of the file in each court and a careful scrutiny of these returns for a few months, would clearly reveal how the presiding officer is looking after the court's file.

Any increase in institution, or slowness in disposal or a tendency to increasing accumulation of work, would be apparent from a proper scrutiny of the returns, and the district judge or the High Court could then arrange for a proper distribution of work well in time or arrange for the posting of additional officers before the situation gets out of Control. In the remarks column of these returns the subordinate courts are also expected to explain the reasons for the delays in the final disposal of each of the old cases. Generally speaking, a regular suit is considered an old suit, if it has been pending over one year.

But in some of the States like Bihar and Kerala we were surprised to learn, that a suit is not considered an "old suit" unless it is three to five years old. This is extremely unsatisfactory and in our view the returns should require all suits older than a year to be shown as old suits and also require explanations in regard to the causes which have occasioned the delay. We would also suggest as did the Rankin Committee, that the returns should show the pendency of cases according to the year of institution. This will immediately fix attention on any tendency to neglect heavier old suits and favour newly instituted lighter ones.

8. Fixation of time limits in civil cases.-

In the State of Madras, there are definite time limits fixed within which various classes of judicial proceedings are expected to be disposed of in the courts of their institution. Thus, small cause suits are expected to be disposed of within three months, regular civil appeals in district courts within six months and miscellaneous appeals within three months. If these matters are not disposed of within the prescribed time limits, the reasons for the delay have to be explained in the statistical returns. We would recommend the adoption of similar targets and similar requirements as to returns in all the States.

9. Time limit for delivery of judgments (Returns).-

In order to prevent delays in hearing arguments and the delivery of judgments the subordinate civil courts in West Bengal have to submit a monthly statement showing the cases in which arguments and judgments were pending for over one month and the dates on which the arguments were heard and judgments delivered. In Madras, the High Court has laid down a rule providing that in all suits the hearing of arguments must be completed within fourteen days after the conclusion of the evidence and the judgment must be delivered within fourteen days from the termination of arguments.

All subordinate courts have to submit monthly returns to the district judge showing particular cases in which the rule has not been observed together with an explanation for the delay. Copies of these returns have to be sent to the High Court along with the periodical statements. The returns in Madhya Pradesh also prescribe an overall period of fourteen days from the close of the hearing within which arguments have to be finished and the judgment has to be delivered. We think that such returns are extremely useful and would, to a large extent, check unusual delays in the delivery of judgments and might be adopted in all States.

10. Value of returns.-

A careful scrutiny of these returns would give a very clear picture of the judicial work of subordinate courts. It would reveal whether the presiding officer has kept pace with the institution, whether he is also disposing of the old and presumably heavy suits, or merely attempting to dispose of lighter suits, and whether he has done the work normally expected of a presiding officer in that court, during the period of review.

11. Need for security.-

But submission of such periodical returns would serve no useful purpose, unless they are closely scrutinised by a responsible official and appropriate instructions are issued for the guidance of subordinate courts. Unfortunately, we find that, except in a few States, the review of the progress of work in subordinate courts is perfunctory and is treated as more or less a routine affair. These returns are generally scrutinised by the district judges in the first instance who after consolidating them submit them to the High Court.

They are examined by the Registrar or the Deputy Registrar of the High Court, who in turn puts them up with his comments to the administrative judge. It has come to our notice that in some States these returns are not even sent up to the administrative judge for scrutiny. Where a large number of courts exist, it is well nigh impossible for a single judge of the High Court to scrutinise these returns. If the scrutiny is to be useful the judge would have to contrast the return with that of the previous period and check particular instances of cases for which a stereotyped explanation is being given for their continued pendency.

The work of scrutiny, we appreciate, is taxing and likely to become monotonous. The result is, that the judges of the High Court or the district courts do not devote sufficient attention to it and the effect of a personal scrutiny, however occasional it may be, by the judge is sadly lacking. Even the outstanding work done by the subordinate judicial officers is lost sight of.

We would emphasize that a critical scrutiny of these periodical returns is very important. Such a scrutiny should be periodically made by one or more of the judges of the High Court. If such a scrutiny is pursued systematically, the High Court would be in a position not only to appraise the capacity of the presiding officer of the subordinate court to manage the court's file but also to notice the courts in which there is likelihood of congestion of work, so that steps can be taken well in time for the proper distribution of work or for the posting of an additional judge. If an officer is slack in his work, he could be warned and if he does not show improvement, he may even be replaced.

12. Scrutiny at High Court level.-

It may well be, that in view of the large number of courts in a State, or the pressure of other administrative or judicial work it is not possible for the administrative judge or judges to devote sufficient time to the scrutiny of these returns. These difficulties can be overcome either by relieving the judge of some of his administrative work by transferring it to another or by distributing the several districts in the State into groups each under a different judge for the purpose of supervision. Whatever be the method adopted, under no circumstances should the duty of scrutiny be neglected or left to the Registrar or Deputy Registrar as happens in some States.

13. At district level.-

The High Courts should not only pay careful attention to the state of affairs disclosed by the returns but insist on the district judges performing a like task in regard to all matters within their district. It should be made clear to the district judges that the primary responsibility for the efficient judicial administration of the district is theirs-and that neglect of the administrative side of their work would be considered to be a dereliction of their duty is as great a degree as inefficient judicial work.

14. Inspection.-

Another mode of exercising effective control over the work of the subordinate courts is the personal inspection of the subordinate court and their establishment by the superior officers. Generally speaking, a district judge exercises control oval all the civil courts in his district and their establishments. In some of the States like Bombay and Andhra Pradesh where the judiciary is separated from the executive they also exercise similar control over the criminal courts. Elsewhere, the administrative control over the criminal courts is exercised by district magistrates. It is noteworthy that in Madras, where the executive has been separated from the judiciary, the post of district magistrate (judicial) has been retained principally for the purpose of supervision of criminal Courts.

High Courts generally have framed detailed rules regarding inspection of subordinate courts by the district judge. Broadly speaking, the rule is that subordinate courts should be inspected by the district judges once in every year or at least once in every two years. Similarly, inspection of district courts and other courts of equivalent rank is expected to be done by High Court Judges. Detailed instructions are given in the Circulars and the rules in regard to the various aspects of the courts' functions which need looking into at an inspection.

15. Nature of inspections.-

The work of inspection is broadly divided into three branches-(1) judicial-this refers to the procedure in the Court and the actual work of the civil judge, (2) ministerial-this refers to the carrying out of the orders of the civil judge, (3) departmental-this refers to the maintenance of registers, accounts files, bills and returns which are kept and submitted in conformity with the orders of the Government, the High Court or the district judge. What is generally necessary is, that before the inspection begins, the subordinate court has to submit to the inspecting officer very detailed information about the cases and other matters in a prescribed form. The detailed information thus supplied forms the basis of the inspection by the inspecting officer.

The judicial work of the court is expected to be inspected by the district judge himself. He is expected to examine in detail the records of pending cases so as to draw the attention of the presiding officer to instances of failure to take full advantage of the facilities provided by the Civil Procedure Code for expediting the course of litigation. A close examination of these records would indicate whether adjournments have been granted by a judicial officer for the purpose of payment of process fees or for taking out summonses for service on witnesses, or whether adjournments have been granted on account of the unpreparedness of the parties or their counsel, or whether the posting of too many cases has resulted in adjournments and also other causes of delay which an alert and a strict judge should be able to avoid.

16. Judicial diary.-

In some States the rules require the judge to maintain a judicial diary showing the work done by him in court every day. This is a very useful record which enables the inspecting officer to understand the manner in which judicial work is being done by the officer concerned and should be required to be maintained in all the States. The other aspects, namely, the ministerial and the departmental functioning of the court, are initially inspected by the trained staff of the district judge, who point out all irregularities and deficiencies with their comments to the inspecting officer. The inspecting officer, in his report is expected not only to point out mistakes and irregularities, but also to lay down detailed instructions for the guidance of the civil judge and the members of the establishment concerned, for the securing of improved methods of work, the abolition of unauthorised practices and the correction of mistakes.

17. Neglect of inspection.-

Notwithstanding, however, the detailed rules fraMed by the High Courts, it is a matter of great regret that during the past several years the importance of inspection as a mode of exercising supervision over subordinate courts has not been fully appreciated. We are of the view that the lack of frequent and efficient supervision inspection and control by the superior courts has been one of the root causes of the delays and the congestion in courts. It must be remembered that the judicial officers on account of their peculiar position, cannot freely consult others like executive officers. The only guidance they can get, is from their superior officers, who can assist them in the solution of their practical difficulties only at the time of inspection of their courts.

In the result a large number of the junior judicial officers do not get the benefit of the maturer experience of the superior officers in the matter of the management of their Courts. Although the district and sessions judges are directed to make inspections of the subordinate courts once in a year or once in two years, as the case may be, in very many States they seldom complete their round of inspections within that period. Several courts have not been inspected for years.

In the northern States, it appears that, a district and sessions judge does not inspect the courts in his district oftener than once in two or three years. Heavy judicial work has been mentioned as one of the reasons why the district judges have not found it possible to make these inspections. In like manner, the inspection of the courts of district and sessions judges or other subordinate courts by the High Court Judges themselves has not been as frequent as is necessary or desirable. We were told by one of the Chief Justices:

"It is undoubtedly true that inspection by High Court of the subordinate Courts and by the District Judges of the Courts subordinate to them has been inadequate in recent years. So far as the High Court is concerned, the pressure of judicial work has been so insistent and heavy that it has been found impossible to spare a Judge, even occasionally, for inspection work.

As regards the inspection of subordinate Courts by District Judges, the Court has recently been insisting on such inspection being made, but it has discovered that there is a danger in doing so. There is a tendency, in at least some of the judges, to make inspection duty an excuse for staying away from ordinary judicial work and spending their time on tours."

But the true remedy for this unfortunate tendency is not to give up inspections altogether, but for the High Court to see, that inspection duty is not misused to escape from regular work.

18. Consequences.-

The present indifference of High Courts in regard to inspection work is, in our view, largely responsible for the inability of the subordinate judicial machinery to deliver the goods. We may mention however, that in the Southern States, particularly, Madras and Andhra Pradesh, on no grounds are the district and sessions judges permitted to depart from the rule requiring an annual inspection of all subordinate courts. It is, perhaps, true that the number of courts in each district in these States is less than the number of courts in some of the districts in some other States but as inspections do play a vital role in the proper working of the judicial administration by alerting the judicial officers and drawing attention to their mistakes and weak points they must be regarded as an essential duty of a district judge and should not be regarded as of minor importance as compared with judicial work.

19. Its Importance.-

It must also be mentioned that there are a large number of High Court Judges who seem to think that the time spent on these inspections is unnecessary and causes needless interference with their judicial work. They think that the appraisal of work of a judicial officer, when his decisions come up before them in appeal or revision, is enough. Such an attitude is unjustified and is even more so now with the existing mass of arrears. A long time is bound to elapse between the passing of a judgment and its scrutiny at the stage of appeal or revision. During this long interval of probably several years the subordinate judicial officer will continue his unmethodical manner of work which may well ripen into an incorrigible habit.

This could be avoided by a few well chosen words of advice after a careful inspection at an earlier stage. Though judicial work is primarily more important than administrative work, the success of judicial administration depends in a great measure upon inspections and the understanding of the local difficulties and problems which often vary even from district to district.

On the occasion of such inspections, the inspecting judge, whether he is a district and sessions judge or a judge of the High Court, can always examine the work of the judicial officer with reference to his laxity or control over his subordinates, the freedom with which he grants adjournments, the dilatoriness with which the proceedings are. conducted and delays caused in the administrative machinery of the court which affect the final disposal of the suit. These are all matters which can never be clearly or at all brought to light when a decision of the subordinate judicial officer comes up by way of appeal or revision to the superior court. At that stage, the judge can only note the total extent of the delay without any appreciation of the stages at which such delays have occurred and without any possibility of discovering whether such delays could have been avoided.

When it is once realised that our judicial procedure, and the various stages of trial cannot be curtailed to any great extent and that the possibility of delay is always inherent in the system or any other system that may replace it, it will be apparent that the only solution can be to control these delays and bring them down to the minimum, i.e., to the normal duration required for pushing through each stage. It, is in this aspect that inspection plays a very important role and there is no substitute for it. The need of inspection by a High Court Judge has now assumed greater importance by reason of a large number of district judges being comparatively inexperienced and lacking in aptitude for administrative work.

20. Concentration of inspection work undesirable.-

We must also point out that it is impossible for any one Judge of the High Court to be placed solely in charge of the work of inspection and supervision. We came across an extreme case in one of the High Courts where one judge out of about twenty judges was in sole charge of the inspection of courts in as many as 51 districts in addition to dealing with administrative work. In yet another State inspection work was done only by the Chief Justice. Any such arrangement is bound to be unsatisfactory as the judge in question will be unable to devote adequate time to these duties unless he is largely or even wholly freed from judicial work.

Distribution of work recommended.- It stands to reason that the court of a district and sessions judge being the highest court in the district should invariably be inspected by a judge of the High Court not only in relation to the judicial work discharged by the district and sessions judge but also in respect of the administrative functions of the district judge. This obviously cannot be achieved if the entire work is concentrated in one or two judges however able.

This difficulty has been met in some of the southern States where all the judges of the High Court are entrusted with inspection duty. Each Judge is placed in charge of One or more districts in the State for a period of one or two years. All matters relating to that district, both judicial and administrative, pass through the hands of the judge in charge of the district. Even such matters as admissions of second appeals or revision, arising from one district go to the judge in charge of the district though the final hearing may be by a different judge or judges.

This arrangement enables a judge of the High Court to give his close attention to the judicial officers working in a particular district. Further all administrative matters relating to that district pass through that judge though the final orders may be passed by the judge who is in charge of the branch of administration and the Chief Justice. In addition, all the judges take part in inspection work, the districts being rotated among them periodically. We recommend the adoption of this system generally in all the Sates.

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