The demand for an independent high court for Goa has been renewed with the decks being cleared for the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh High Court into a new Telangana High Court. Ever since the creation of the State of Telangana, that was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, there has been a demand for a separate high court for the new State, which has now been realised. This demand, for an independent high court for Goa, is not news. It arose soon after Goa attained statehood in 1987, and surfaces at irregular intervals. With Telangana, a relatively young State having been formed in June 2014, getting a high court of its own, the reasoning now is why not Goa, that is 31 years old as a State. Small States have got high courts, ‘so why not Goa?’ appears to be the argument.
The arguments in favour of a high court rely not just on the virtue of Goa being a State, but also fall back on history, with one advocate pointing out to the Portuguese judiciary that is 450 years old in Goa, compared to the British occupation of India and its judiciary that is 250 years old. The costs of running a bench of a high court as against an independent high court have also been brought out, and also the emotional issue of employment has been referred to, stating that Goans will get absorbed and that advocates who have learnt the art of advocacy will get a chance to practise their skills.
With Telangana’s gain of a high court, advocates from Goa now are considering approaching the Supreme Court with a petition seeking an independent high court for the State. The question of a high court for Goa, however, has less to do with the judiciary and more of a political decision and it will be decided by the government that is in power.
The pros and cons associated with a high court will have to be considered before taking forward this petition. One of the main issues would be the number of cases that come up before the bench and there is one school of thought that believes that the number of cases will not justify setting up a separate high court for Goa. As has been pointed out by Justice FM Reis, the present setup of the high court bench at Goa is good considering the low pendency of cases. Juxtapose this with what Justice Ferdino Rebello had said in an interview to Herald some years ago, “When I used to come to Goa in one sitting I used to dispose of one tenth of the backlog. Now if you get judges who are fast you will have a situation where there is no work. If you get good judges the bar improves. These are questions that need to be posed.”
There indeed are a number of questions that would need to be asked and answered before the request is made. Considering the number of cases, this high court would have three judges – a chief justice and two local justices, making it a very limited bench. What then is the guarantee that the chief justice transferred to the Goa high court would be from among the elite of the judiciary?
Just as in every legal tangle there are two sides, the demand for a separate high court for Goa too has the same two sides that need to be weighed. Each side will proffer a number of reasons for an independent high court, but at the end of the day the main advantages and disadvantages of a separate high court would be similar to those of having a separate IAS cadre, another political demand that is renewed periodically. All it gives is a political high of an achievement.