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Civil Appeals at Karnataka High Court

Summary – In the sprawling expanse of the Karnataka High Court-Bengaluru Bench, a labyrinth of legal proceedings unfolds daily, with civil appeals forming a significant portion of the docket. Yet, beneath the veneer of justice lies a complex web of challenges, particularly in the realm of regular first and second appeals. This blog seeks to unravel the intricacies surrounding these appeals, shedding light on listing issues and advocating for systemic reforms in disposal.

Key takeaways

  1. Not more than 20% of available judges are allocated to Regular First and second appeals.
  2. Less than 2% of the total pending cases listed for hearing every day.
  3. There is no consistent number of cases listed for hearings.
  4. A varying case clearance rate suggests that cases are not being disposed of consistently.
  5. Our analysis found 13 RFA cases & 3 RSA cases pending for 20+ years. The presence of cases albeit few in number, lingering for two decades highlights the failure of the system in efficiently scheduling and prioritizing older matters.

I. The Imperative of Timely Justice:

In the case of Yashpal Jain v. Sushila Devi and others1 Hon’ble Justice Aravind Kumar emphasized the frustration experienced by litigants due to the slow pace of the legal process. The bench also expressed concern over cases languishing for decades, some even over 50 years, as reported by the NJDG. To address this issue, the bench issued 11 directives aimed at expediting the disposal of cases at the trial court level. However, it’s notable that the bench did not extend these directives to the High Courts where cases have been pending for extensive periods.

The impetus for systemic reform is also underscored in the case of Smt. Thirkkavva & anr V Ratnavva & Others2, where parties endured a staggering 16-year wait for a final hearing and verdict, despite the absence of significant legal complexities. This egregious delay serves as a reminder of the necessity of timely justice and highlights the systemic hurdles. 

II. Navigating the Legal Landscape:

In the legal system of Karnataka, parties aggrieved by lower court ruling seeks recourse through regular first appeals in the High Court. Subsequent appeals, termed regular second appeals, provide an avenue for challenging decisions made in the first appeals. However, at the Bengaluru Bench of the Karnataka High Court, approximately 10% of the total pending cases are RSA, with an additional 10% comprising RFA as reported by NJDG. The sheer volume of these appeals exacerbates court backlogs, the resultant delay prolongs legal proceedings and also undermines public confidence in the judicial process.

III. The Analytical Lens

To delve deeper into these challenges, DAKSH conducted an analysis using data from the Bengaluru bench of the Karnataka High Court. The focus was on evaluating how civil appeals are listed, the allocation of judges to hear them and their disposals.

IV. A Tale of Allocation and Backlogs:

In the legal process, it’s interesting to note that Single Bench handles Regular Second Appeals (RSA) and matters concerning Regular First Appeals (RFA) are stratified based on pecuniary jurisdiction, with Single Bench presiding over cases valued below 10 lakh Rupees and Division Bench stepping in for cases surpassing this threshold. This blog delves into the management of RFA and RSA cases at the Bengaluru Bench of the Karnataka High Court hence, to gain insights, we started with analysis of the rosters covering the period from May 2023 to May 2024, which revealed that the number of judges assigned to handle these subject matters were inadequate, not more than 20% of available judges are earmarked for civil appeals, Figure-1.

 

Figure 1

This paltry allocation casts a long shadow over the judiciary’s ability to tackle the mounting caseload effectively. Some judges are also tasked with multiple subject matters, which directly influences the daily listing of RFA & RSA cases. Our analysis shows, each day, a mere fraction of these cases are listed for hearing, constituting less than 2% of the total pending cases and maximum cases listed in a day during the said period were 194 RSA cases on 25th March 2024, 291 RFA cases on 14th March 2024, minimum cases of 76 RSA cases on April 3rd 2024 and 34 of RFA cases on 25th March 2024 as shown in Figure-2. 

Figure 2

Adding to the complexity is the lack of uniformity in the number of cases scheduled for hearings. To understand this issue we analyzed the number of times  cases get listed (data used is as on 25th july 20223)

Figure 3

Figure-3, shows the number of times cases were listed before getting disposed, 13 RSA cases and 39 RFA cases were listed more than 100 times before it was disposed, certain cases also took up to 50 listings for admission, this is just a classic example of cases listed and not being heard. There exists a close connection between the number of cases listed and judges hearing these matters i.e, less cases listed is directly linked to less cases getting disposed of, in order to understand this, we analyzed the number of cases disposed between March 25th 2024 to April 25th 2024 which revealed that about 72-RFA, 167-RSA, 2209-WP cases were disposed, one can easily make out that other case types are preferred over RSA and RFA disposal. To understand further we analyzed the disposal-case clearance rate, to figure out the percentage of cases disposed yearly.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure-4 indicates that the RFA-Case Clearance Rate peaked at 89% in 2015 and hit a low of 26% in 2017. Similarly, Figure-5 reveals that the RSA-Case Clearance Rate reached its highest in 2021 at 83% and hit a low of 18% in 2018. The fluctuating clearance rates suggest inconsistency in case disposal, which is due to judges handling multiple subject matters along RFA and RSA cases. This diversification of workload compromises the attention required for meticulous evaluation of evidence in RFA and RSA cases, leading to delays in disposal, contributing to a low clearance rate. Additionally, while clearance rates provide insight into yearly case filings and disposals, they do not address older unresolved cases lingering in the system for extended periods. To understand about the unresolved older cases we analyzed the time frame for disposals.

Figure 6

Figure-6 speaks about time taken by cases for disposal-about 6,655 RFA cases and 7,789 RSA cases were resolved with a timeframe of 5 to 10 years. We also noticed about 13 RFA and 12 RSA cases were pending for 20 years or more. The presence of such long pending cases albeit few in number lingering for two decades highlights the failure in the system in timely delivering justice. Further on an average, cases tend to take between 3.3 to 6.5 years to get disposed of for RFA cases and between 4.1 to 6.3 years for RSA cases. This prolonged duration of court proceedings can exact a heavy toll on litigants, both emotionally and financially. Litigants invest considerable resources in terms of time and money, fervently hoping for a favorable outcome. However, the prolonged wait for judgment often means that they do not get to reap the benefits of the verdict on time.

 This underscores the poignant truth that when justice is delayed, it is effectively denied. 

V. Conclusion:

The Karnataka High Court-Bengaluru Bench grapples with systemic challenges impeding timely justice delivery, evident in civil appeals. Despite highlighting the urgency for reforms in the case4, the issue persists, leading to frustration among litigants and eroding public trust in the judiciary. Glaring inefficiencies in judge allotments, listing practices, and disposal durations exacerbate the backlog, leaving cases unresolved for long periods. Urgent reforms are necessary, focusing on equitable judge allocations, streamlined listing procedures to expedited disposals. The author is thankful to Smita Mutt and Leah Verghese for their support.
  • 1 Civil Appeal No.4296 OF 2023, Supreme Court of India.
  • 2 RFA No.1659 Of 2007 C/W RFA Cross Obj No.101 of 2008, Karnataka High Court.
  • 3 Though the data used was of 2022, this does not impact the results of the analysis conducted.
  • 4 RFA No.1659 Of 2007 C/W RFA Cross Obj No.101 of 2008, Karnataka High Court..

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