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SC Pendency Project: Corp, tax & PIL cases pend longest | More near-Delhi cases end in Supreme Court & food for stats geeks

Half-decade of SC cases (source: Nick Robinson & SC data)
Half-decade of SC cases (source: Nick Robinson & SC data)

A research paper published today has analysed nearly 60 years of cases pending in the Supreme Court and revealed a host of trends, including that litigation in states geographically nearer to Delhi is more likely to end up in the apex court, that the longest pendency plagues company, tax, mining and public interest litigations.

In the study The Indian Supreme Court by the Numbers that was published today, Nick Robinson, who is a visiting fellow at the Center for Policy Research at Azim Premji University Bangalore, analysed figures collated from reports published by the Supreme Court and requested by the author.

Decisions from high courts geographically closer to SC seem more likely to get appealed
High court Avg Appeal Rate to SC
(% between 2006 and 2011)
Distance from SC (km)
Delhi 9.3 2
Punjab and Haryana 7.3 260
Uttaranchal 5.9 272
Himachal Pradesh 3.2 362
Bombay 3 1395
Karnataka 2.9 2073
Andhra Pradesh 2.9 1506
National Average 2.6 1138
Madhya Pradesh 2.5 800
Rajasthan 2.4 572
Uttar Pradesh 2.3 693
Jharkhand 2.2 1191
Gujarat 2 932
Kerala 2 2574
Chhattisgarh 1.9 1186
Calcutta 1.7 1439
Assam 1.4 1805
Bihar 1.4 1026
Madras 1.1 2118
Jammu and Kashmir 1.1 867
Orissa 0.9 1688

The research highlights pendency statistics in the Supreme Court, also divided by types of case, its origin and, correlations between rates of appeal and geographical proximity to Delhi where the Supreme Court is based, and more.

A Delhi high court case is three times more likely than a Bombay high court case to end up in the Supreme Court, while cases from Punjab and Haryana, Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh – all within 400km of Delhi – are also all more likely to end up in the apex court than cases originating from Maharashtra or Karnataka high courts.

Between 2005/6 and 2010/11 in the Supreme Court:

  • Types of hearings where volume has increased the most
    • Appeals Against Statutory Bodies: +475%
    • Direct Tax Matters: +170%
    • Land acquisition and requisition Matters: +98%
    • Company Law, competition & similar matters: +70%
    • Compensation Matter: +52.1%
    • Family Law Matter: +49%
    • Criminal Matters: +41%
    • Ordinary Civil Matters: +41%
    • Average increase across categories: +37%
  • In the same time, new five- and three-judge bench admissions have decreased by 73% and 81% respectively.
  • The average likelihood of a SC case being accepted as a regular hearing matter after admission, has increased by only 3%

Some more highlights:

Admission Matters pending more than 2 years Regular matters pending more than 5 years
2004 7% 7%
2009 27% 23%
2011 33% 17%

SC pendency is on average:

  • shortest for matters relating to family law, labour, service law, criminal, consumer protection, land acquisition (only between 42% and 51% of those types of cases are pending for more than two years)
  • but longest for matters relating to: taxes, company law, mining and public interest litigations (61% to 74% of those are pending for more than two years, with 40% of PILs pending for more than 5 years).
  • On average, 58% of cases are pending for longer than two years, and 19% for longer than five years.

More than nine out of 10 cases due to be heard by benches of three or more SC judges take longer than two years. Likelihood that a bench of seven, three or five judges will dispose of a case before them within five years: 0%, 32% and 59% (respectively).

Robinson's Recommendations:

Regularly update the Supreme Court’s Annual Reports and Court News

Release other forms of data in these publications, including the institution and disposal of cases by subject matter; backlog by the year in which cases were filed; and from where Supreme Court appeals originate

“Unregistered matters” should not be clumped together in tallies of the number of disposed of cases by the Court, and instead demarcated separately

Create a separate category of disposals that tracks how many cases are uncontested either because of an out-of-court settlement or a default judgment against one party

Create a separate category that tracks how often delays in hearing a matter are granted. For example, was a case argued the first time it was scheduled to be heard, the second time, the third time? This information would help judges and the public track how often delays are created by inadequate preparation by counsel or poor scheduling

Clearly define and track miscellaneous matters. Publish the number of these matters as a separate category

As explained in detail earlier in this paper, the Court should correct how it tracks “Leave Granted” matters in its monthly statements

Track “Leave Granted and Disposed of” cases by subject matter category

Track not only from what state admission matters originated, but also from what state regular hearing matters originated

Revisit the subject matter categories used by the Court, as some are so narrow that they are rarely used, while others seem too wide and could be usefully subdivided

Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of how the benches of the Supreme Court currently spend their time so that judges and the public can better understand the tradeoffs involved with different uses of judicial resources.

Click here to read the full paper

Read more on pendency in:

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