From Justice Definitions Project

What is 'Hearing'

A hearing refers to any formal proceeding before a court, often a brief court session that resolves a specific question before a full court trial takes place, or to such specialised proceedings as administrative hearings.[1] In a hearing, evidence and arguments will be presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. More specifically, a hearing is the formal examination of a cause, civil or criminal, before a judge according to the laws of a particular jurisdiction. In common usage, a hearing also refers to any formal proceeding before a court.

Types of 'Hearing'

In criminal and civil procedure

In civil litigation, a trial is essentially a hearing where parties present their case before a judge or jury. This type of hearing involves presenting evidence, examining witnesses, and making legal arguments to support their claims or defenses. In reference to criminal procedure, a hearing refers to a proceeding before a magistrate subsequent to the inception of the case and without a jury, especially a preliminary hearing, in which a magistrate or judge, in the presence of the accused, determines whether there is sufficient evidence to justify proceeding with the case.[2]

Substantive and Non-Substantive

Hearings are also usually classified into substantive and non-substantive. Substantive hearings refer to court sessions where the matter of the dispute is actively discussed, argued, or decided upon. These hearings involve the application of judicial mind to the resolution of the dispute and may include activities such as presenting evidence, making legal arguments, issuing orders, or reaching a decision on the case. On the other hand, non-substantive hearings are those that do not directly contribute to the resolution of the dispute. These hearings are often procedural in nature and may involve matters such as scheduling, filing of documents, or addressing administrative issues. Non-substantive hearings may also include adjournments where the case is rescheduled to a later date without any substantive progress being made.

Effective and non-effectiveHearing

An effective hearing is a hearing in which either one or both the parties involved in a case are heard by the court. If the case is mentioned and adjourned or only directions are given or only judgement is delivered by the court, it would not constitute an effective hearing but will be termed as non-effective hearing.[1]

International experience


A hearing is the determination of a charge before a magistrate. A committal hearing is a preliminary hearing, before a magistrate, to see whether a more serious charge should go to a higher court (for example, the District or Supreme Courts). When a contested matter does go to a higher court for a trial, it is usually heard before a judge and jury. In some cases you can now opt for a judge-alone trial (no jury). [3] A hearing before a magistrate is sometimes called a summary hearing, because it is decided straight away, or 'summarily'. In a summary hearing you might not receive any advance warning of witnesses or evidence to be called. However, you are entitled, well before the hearing, to a statement of alleged 'facts' on which the prosecution is basing its case. For graver charges, a committal (or preliminary) hearing is held in the Local Court to decide whether or not the prosecution has a case to go to trial in a higher court.

The UK

In England and Wales, a preliminary court hearing is held to decide whether an offence will be heard at the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The term "rolled-up hearing" is also used, referring to occasions when permission is considered for a procedural application on the basis that, if permission is granted, the substantive application will be heard immediately afterwards. In the British courts, hearing refers to a formal proceeding where legal arguments, evidence, and submissions are presented before a judge or a panel of judges. They are considered an integral part of the judicial process and are conducted to resolve legal disputes, make decisions, or gather information relevant to a case. It's important to note that the specific procedures and practices followed in British courts may differ depending on the jurisdiction and the type of court involved, such as the High Court, Crown Court, County Court, or specialized tribunals.[4]


A hearing refers to any formal proceeding before a court. The term usually refers to a brief court session that resolves a specific question before a full court trial takes place, or to such specialized proceedings as administrative hearings. In a hearing, evidence and arguments will be presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. In criminal law, a preliminary hearing is held before a judge and without a jury to determine whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence to justify proceeding with the case[5]

Appearance of 'Hearing' in Database

Official database- eCourts

The eCourts portal provides for the last hearing and the next hearing date in case Status as shown.

screenshot of the PDF causelist of the Delhi High Court
screenshot of the online causelist of the Delhi High Court which lists the hearings before a judge of the Delhi High Court

Reserach that engages with Hearing

Working paper on Differentiated Case Management for Indian Judiciary

Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s first working paper on Differentiated Case Management for Indian Judiciary discusses the issue of delay and pendency in the Indian judiciary system, specifically focusing on the prolonged hearings of Constitution Bench cases. It argues that the traditional approach of simply increasing judicial capacity, such as the number of judges or establishing special courts, has been ineffective in addressing delay. Instead, the paper proposes the adoption of a Differentiated Case Management (DCM) system to optimize judicial resources, particularly judicial time. It proposes a DCM-based framework that takes into account the differential requirements of cases and allocates judicial time accordingly. Specifically, it suggests using historical data on the number of hearings in similar Constitution Bench cases, weighted by the complexity of the pending case, to determine the maximum number of hearings necessary. This framework aims to ensure realistic, equitable, and attainable timelines for hearings.

Working paper on Timely Oral Submissions

The second working paper on Timely Oral Submissions discusses the evolving approach of the Supreme Court of India regarding the timing of oral arguments in Constitution Bench cases. It begins by highlighting the historical absence of active Constitution Benches due to the lengthy nature of these hearings and the strain they place on court resources. When the Court resumed Constitution Bench matters, it introduced a new practice of limiting oral argument time for advocates. It analyzes this emerging practice by examining data from specific cases and live-streamed hearings. It finds that the allocation of time to advocates lacks consistency and rationale, with many advocates not given time limits and those who were often exceeding their allotted time. This led to prolonged hearings, consuming considerable judicial time. It proposes a scientific framework for optimizing judicial time. The framework suggests assessing the maximum number of hearings needed for a Constitution Bench case based on historical averages and case complexity.

Working paper on A Framework for Extremely Delayed Cases

The third working paper on A Framework for Extremely Delayed Cases discusses the issue of prolonged pendency of cases in Indian courts, particularly focusing on cases that remain unresolved for multiple years. It highlights the significant number of cases pending for more than five years and the detrimental effects on the efficiency of the judicial system. The reasons for these delays include various factors such as lack of proactive measures from the courts, parties' inability to push for progress, and perverse incentives to keep cases pending. It suggests implementing templatisation of order sheets and creating data dashboards to facilitate data collection and analysis. It also outlines potential metrics for segregating cases and strategies for future progress based on common reasons for delay identified through data analysis. A flowchart depicting the DCM framework is provided to illustrate the proposed approach.

Report on Deciphering Judicial Data

DAKSH’s report on Deciphering Judicial Data focuses on critiquing the inefficiencies within the Indian judiciary system, particularly concerning trial procedures and management.

Zero Pendency Courts Project

Another report on the Zero Pendency Courts Project discusses the long-standing issue of increasing backlog and pendency of cases in the Indian judicial system. The Zero Pendency Courts was a pilot project initiated by the Delhi High Court as an attempt to study case flow in the absence of backlog and identify benchmarks for different types of cases. Importantly, it uses the term “real-time flow of cases” to refer to the study and analysis of cases from the time they are filed in court until their final disposal, in a continuous and up-to-date manner. In this context, it involves tracking cases in the pilot courts and reference courts from January 2017 to December 2018 to understand how the absence of backlog affects the time taken to dispose of cases in different jurisdictions.

[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/hearing

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/hearing-law

[3] https://legalanswers.sl.nsw.gov.au/defend-yourself-facing-charge-court/hearings-and-trials#:~:text=A%20hearing%20is%20the%20determination,the%20District%20or%20Supreme%20Courts).

[4] https://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/enforcementguide/court/magistrates-hearing.htm

[5] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/hearing#:~:text=A%20hearing%20refers%20to%20any,specialized%20proceedings%20as%20administrative%20hearings.

  1. Ministry of Law, Justice and Co. Affairs Department of Legal Affairs Judicial Section **** New Delhi, the 24th September, 1999 OFFICE MEMORANDUM available at https://legalaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/OMNO26-1_0.pdf
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