The judiciary should have annual performance reports, too

News: In a rare exhibition of transparency, the Orissa High Court has published an annual report taking stock of its performance in a difficult year that marked by the resurgence of the pandemic. By subjecting itself to the scrutiny of the common citizen, the court has shown exceptional humility.

Details of the annual report

The report provides a district-wise breakup of cases and availability of judges.

It contains a section explaining the reasons for delays and backlog at the level of the district judiciary. The following reasons have been cited for the delay –

The tendency of higher courts to “stay” proceedings

The uneven distribution of cases amongst judges in trial courts

The non-availability of witnesses due to transfers

The report also sheds light on the administrative functioning of the court.

In addition to listing the judges on each administrative committee, the report acknowledges the work done by them.

For instance, the committee that deals with the appeals by the employees of the district judiciary against orders passed by disciplinary authorities had 40 appeals, out of which it disposed of only 13 appeals. This is useful information if one wishes to assess the administrative workload of judges and the efficiency with which they discharge their tasks. Most HCs do not share this information with ordinary citizens even if requests are made for the same under the Right to Information Act.

Significance of annual reports

Annual reports have traditionally been an important way of ensuring accountability of public bodies to Parliament and citizens.

Each Union ministry is required to supply copies of these reports to the Lok Sabha Secretariat a week before the Demand for Grants of the ministries is taken up.

The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has detailed instructions on the expectations regarding the timeline and content of such reports.

These reports are examined by the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committees and the Parliamentary Committee on “Papers Laid on the Table”, which regularly takes to task ministries for delays in tabling reports of the government companies and autonomous bodies under their control.

Unlike the executive, the judiciary is not under any legal obligation to prepare annual reports or table them before Parliament or the state legislature.

Do courts publish annual reports regularly?

No.

A survey of the websites of the 25 high courts in the country revealed that only the high courts of Madras, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura had published an annual report in the last two years.

At most, all high courts submit short reports to the Supreme Court which compiles all the information into one annual report on the judiciary.

Way forward

It’s up to Parliament to enact a law that mandates high courts to publish an annual report not just on their performance, but also on the performance of the district judiciary under their administrative control.

This law should clearly outline the expected content of the report and establish a clear timeline for its publication.

Source: This post is based on the article “The judiciary should have annual performance reports, too” published in The Indian Express on 7th June 22.

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