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Key takeaways

  • Provisions regarding the Supreme Court Registryand all appointments under it are covered in Article 146 of the Constitution.
  • The Secretary General holds the responsibility of custody of all records of the Court.
  • Personnel under the Registry include the Branch Officers, Dealing Officials, Librarians, and their assistants.
  • In the absence of the Secretary General, it is the Registrar nominated by the Chief Justice, who performs his tasks.

Introduction

All provisions regarding the Supreme Court Registry are covered in Article 146 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court's Secretary-General oversees the Registry, which includes 10 registrars as well as extra and deputy registrars. The Secretary General holds the responsibility of custody of all records of the Court and along with exercising all other functions assigned to him. The current Secretary General of the Supreme Court Registry is Mr, Virender Kumar Bansal. Article 146 also contains provisions regarding the appointment of officers and their service personnel who work at the Supreme Court Registry. These personnel includes the Branch Officers, Dealing Officials, Librarians, and their assistants.

Recently, the Supreme Court Registry has faced allegations of breaking procedural codes of conduct several times. This article tries to look into a few such recent incidents wherein the Registry was put in an answerable position.

Functions of the Registrar

  • To keep a list of all cases pending before the Court, publish on the notice board/website of the Court a list of all cases ready for hearing. This list is called the "terminal list". The list is to be updated from time to time.
  • To publish on the notice board/website of the Court at the end of each week a list of cases to be heard in the following week and also to publish at the end of each day a daily list of cases to be heard by the Court on the following day.
  • To publish an Advance List of miscellaneous matters. From the Advance List, matters will be taken up in Daily List.
  • To publish any other lists or matters on orders of the Chief Justice.
  • In addition to the powers conferred by other rules, the Registrar shall have the following duties and powers:
  1. To amend any plaint, petition of appeal, petition or other proceeding presented to the Court in accordance with the practice and procedure of the Court or to be represented after such requisition as the Registrar is empowered to make.
  2. To fix the date of hearing of appeals, petitions or other proceedings and issue notices.
  3. To settle the index in cases where the record is prepared in the Court.
  4. To make an order for change of advocate-an-record with the consent of the advocate-on-record.
  5. To direct any formal amendment of record.
  6. To grant leave to inspect and search the records of the Court and order the grant of copies of documents to parties to proceedings, without interfering or dispensing with any mandatory requirement of these rules.
  7. To allow from time to time on a written request any period or periods not exceeding twenty eight days in aggregate for furnishing information or for doing any other act necessary to bring the plaint, appeal, petition or other proceeding in conformity with the rules and practice of the Court
  • In the absence of the Secretary General, it is the Registrar nominated by the Chief Justice, who performs his tasks.

Allegations of misconduct

Recently, senior advocate Dushyant Dave raised an issue at the Supreme concerning the deletion of matters from the Registry, without prior notice. Such deletion at the last minute was causing difficulty in the smooth working of the day-to-day procedures. Counsels who come prepared for the matter get to know about the deletion only on arrival at the Court. Mr. Dave raised concern about this careless behavior of the Registry. This is not the first time he is raising this issue in Court. He had urged the Court to take necessary actions on such unauthorised deletion, stating that it is the young and struggling advocates of the Court who have to face the hardships of such careless acts. He has added that it is them who are most in need of the support of the institution and their clients who need justice delivered. Dushyant Dave is also a two-time President of the Supreme Court Bar Association. He added that it is after preparations and reading of the brief that last till 8 PM in the night and even multiple conferences being held, that the counsels had prepared for the matter that had been deleted. However, the CJI held back from making detailed remarks on the same by saying that “There are a lot of issues I want to flag but I don't want to observe anything before demitting the office. But I will speak about all of this in my farewell speech. So please wait." He is to retire from his post on the coming 26th of August, 2022.

A few days ago, on 8th August 2022, Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y Chandrachud also condemned this incorrect behaviour of the Registry. He was expressing his dissatisfaction when he came to know that a matter that was listed for the board that day had been deleted without any reason given. After the hearing of Item no.2, the Bench was calling out for Item no.3 when it was informed by the Court Master that the same has been deleted. On being apprised of this, Justice D.Y Chandrachud was disturbed and he questioned the authority of the Registry to do so. He asked whether they or the Registry were the judges. Following this, he instructed the Court Master to inform the Registry to let himself informed, by afternoon that day, as to why the matter was deleted.

Just a few days prior to this, on 4th August 2022, Justice M. R. Shah of the Supreme Court had expressed similar concerns he had, with the Supreme Court Registry's practice of erasing matters that had been listed for a specific day. When speaking to the Court Master, Justice Shah said that it is not the business of the Registrar to decide whether a certain matter is to be deleted or not. He also told him that the Registrar should be told that they (judges) specifically do the bunching of the matters and post them, so this should not be done, and also to meet him on 1:45 PM on Thursday.

It was a decision to be made by the Judges, he said. The Registry’s excuse that deletion of matters posted for a day was because of the excess of it was not valid, and that is not how things work, remarked Justice Shah to Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, who was speaking before the bench, which also included Justice B. V. Nagarathna.

The Registry has had to face such allegations not only regarding unauthorised deletion of matters but also for not listing certain cases on time.

On 28th June 2022, a vacation bench of the Supreme Court had expressed its dissatisfaction towards the Registry for not listing a certain matter despite being given specific instructions to do so. The matter had been directed by Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi to be of urgent nature, which was to be listed the next day. The matter was a move by the Central Government against the direction that had been ordered by the Tripura High Court, which entertained a case challenging the special security cover provided to Mr. Mukesh Ambani.

Adv.Abhishek Manu Singhvi approached the Registrar with this matter, upon the instructions of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala, as he was told that the vacation bench did not have the power to order urgent listings at its own discretion. Justice Surya Kant said that the procedure during vacation was to first submit the matter before the Registry. However, even on being submitted before the Registry, the listing failed to take place. The vacation bench had expressed its anguish on such behaviour by the Registry.

In a similar case of 'extraordinary urgent listing', regarding the special leave petition filed by Republic TV Chief, Arnab Goswami, in connection to his bail plea in the 2018 abetment to suicide case [Arnab Goswami vs State of Maharashtra], the then President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Dushyant Dave, had written a letter to the Secretary General of the Supreme Court on November 2020. He had expressed his strong protest against such listing. Mr. Dave questioned the Registry, as to whether it had any special instruction from the Chief Justice of India to do so. He also stated the seriousness of the matter by pointing out the “selective listing of matters” that the Registry was indulging in, during the period of the past eight months in which the COVID 19 pandemic was spreading.

Another instance of this nature was when the Registry authorities were asked to explain why an anticipatory bail request was not posted within four weeks as it was directed by the Supreme Court's three-judge bench, which was chaired by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

There have also been allegations of unnecessary and biased intervention being raised against the Registry. For example in the contempt of court case against Adv. Prashant Bhushan [Amicus Curiae v. Prashant Bhushan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 635], the Registry had rejected an intervention application filed by activist Aruna Roy. This was done by the power the Registry holds under Order XV Rule 5 of the Supreme Court rules. However, it was alleged that this intervention had fundamental legal flaws to it.

In a petition that was filed at the Supreme Court, dated alleging “partiality and favoritism in the listing of matters on the part of the Apex Court Registry” [Reepak Kansal vs Secretary General of Supreme Court of India], the apex court had imposed a fine of Rs. 100 on the petitioner. The petitioner had requested that the Secretary-General of the Apex Court advise its Registrar and staff "not to give preferences to cases filed by influential lawyers, petitioners, and law firms." He had asked for a set of rules to end prejudice against common lawyers, accusing the Apex Court Registry of having a "pick and choose" policy. The bench which was headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that it was inappropriate of a member of the Bar to make such allegations against the Court Registry.

Conclusion

On 11th January 2022, the Supreme Court made a remark while dealing with applications for condonation of delay and restoration of the application for exemption from surrendering in a cheating case. The apex court said that the officers at the Registry must know the rules of Supreme Court “ like the back of one’s hand”. The importance of the Registry in the smooth working of the Court cannot be ignored at any cost. All procedures must be carried out efficiently by this body so that justice is delivered to all. Any incident that causes hardships to legal personnel at the Court, due to errors be it intentional, or unintentional, committed by the Registry, is not only disrespect of law, but also malfunctioning of the nation’s judicial system.


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