In vacation, Supreme Court bench is late by an hour every day

Punctuality, an important defining character of Judges, is the latest casualty in the Supreme Court, the role model for high courts and the subordinate courts.

Old timers recount there was a time when litigants used to set their watches to 10.30 am when Judges of the Supreme Court assembled to begin proceedings. But, no longer, they lament.

Lawyers and litigants grumble under their breath when Judges sit late. But, they dare not comment openly as they do not want to risk the wrath of the Judges and affect the fate of their cases and clients.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Altamas Kabir, who sits in court no. 1, is usually late to the court every day and the bench headed by him seldom commences judicial work at scheduled 10.30 am. But, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra appears to be setting a record of her own in coming late to the court.

During normal working days, she too comes late to the court. But, during the ongoing summer vacation, punctuality in the SC appears to have lost its meaning as the bench headed by her, which was sitting from May 30 to June 14, assembled at least 60 minutes late on every working day.

Three days ago, the bench headed by her assembled at 12 noon instead of 10.30 am. On entering the court room packed with lawyers and litigants waiting patiently, she sported a wry smile and said - "Thanks for your patience!" Justice R S Sodhi, who is practicing in the SC after retiring as a HC Judge, responded - "Thanks for coming!"

ToI sought views of retired CJIs, SC Judges and lawyers about sanctity of punctuality in judiciary. Former CJI V N Khare said, "The Supreme Court Judges are the role model for High Court Judges and presiding officers of subordinate courts. If they are not punctual then it would set a very bad precedent for others."

"Punctuality is the first and foremost thing which is in the hands of the Judges. If for someexceptional urgent situation which delayed a Judge, it should be notified so that the lawyers and litigants are not made to wait unnecessarily," Justice Khare said.

Justice (retired) B N Srikrishna said, "When I became a Judge of the Bombay High Court, then Chief Justice P D Desai had told me that the least a Judge can do is to sit on dot at the scheduled time. That is what I have done in my entire life and I think it is the duty of every Judge to be scrupulously punctual".

Senior advocate and BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad said, "Punctuality is the hallmark of judicial discipline. It is also an essential ingredient of the functioning of all courts, especially the Supreme Court."

In the first M C Setalvad Memorial Lecture in 2005, former CJI R C Lahoti had said, "Four qualities are needed in a judge which are symptomatic of functional excellence. They are punctuality, probity, promptness and patience."

One of the legal luminaries and former CJI M Hidayatullah too had placed great importance on Judges being punctual. According to him a Judge who does not observe punctuality of time does not believe in rule of law, Justice Lahoti had recounted.

Former CJI Y K Sabharwal too had stressed the importance of punctuality for Judges. "A Judge has to be punctual and regular in adhering to the court hours. The need for punctuality and regularity is not only to hve full control over the work but also to have a moral authority to check indiscipline amongst those who are expected to play a role in the functioning of the court, including the court staff, members of the bar, the litigants, witnesses etc."

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