Excerpt of William Hubbard and Co-authors’ Book on India’s Supreme Court

100 seconds to a decision — trust in senior advocates replaces hard facts, legal details

We now turn to a very different story for why senior advocates have a clear advantage in getting their cases admitted to the Supreme Court. It goes like this—the Supreme Court hears tens of thousands of petitions per year. Even with more than thirty hard-working judges, this is a staggering amount of work. Unable to devote careful attention to each of these cases, the judges of the Supreme Court are desperate to find ways to admit or dismiss petitions as fast as possible. One way to manage the time crunch is to rely on what they do know—the lawyers in front of them. And no lawyers are more familiar to the Court, and more trusted by the Court, than senior advocates. Sometimes, in the span of a two-minute hearing, the judges can tell whether a petition has true merit or not, and they admit or dismiss accordingly. But often, they cannot tell. In those cases, they decide based on the advocate. It is easy to say, ‘dismissed’, to a stranger, but it is hard to turn away a familiar face, a celebrity or a respected elder.

An Overwhelmed Court Looking for Familiar Faces

We begin with the fact that the judges of the Supreme Court face a crushing case load. As we described in Chapter 1, the Court’s pursuit of being a ‘people’s court’ has led it to invite a massive flow of SLPs that it must sift through. The Court receives over 60,000 petitions per year. It devotes two days per week—Monday and Friday—to hearings on whether to admit or dismiss these petitions. And because it holds at least one hearing per petition, and sometimes more, before admitting or dismissing the petition, this means that on any given Monday or Friday, the Court holds around 1000 hearings.

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