Insights into Editorial: Bigger and better: On number of Supreme Court judges
Union Cabinet has approved a proposal to increase the strength of judges in Supreme Court from the present 31 to 34 (i.e. by 10%), including Chief Justice of India (CJI). Cabinet has approved a bill to amend the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956.
Against the backdrop of nearly 60,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court, a bill to increase the number of judges in the top court from 30 to 33 was introduced in Lok Sabha.
At present Supreme Court has sanctioned strength of judges is 31 (including CJI). Once the bill gets parliamentary approval, its sanctioned strength will go up to 33, plus the CJI, according to the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill introduced by Law Minister.
Recently, Chief Justice of India requested the same:
The bill comes days after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase the number of Supreme Court judges.
Due to paucity of judges, the required number of constitution benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed.
The way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the pendency of cases in the Supreme Court has constantly been on the rise due to comparatively higher rate of institution of cases.
Interpretation of Constitution involves substantial question of Law:
As on the July 11, there were 59,331 cases pending in the Supreme Court.
It is not possible for the Chief Justice of India to constitute five Judges Bench on a regular basis to hear cases involving substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution as it would result in constitution of a smaller number of Division Benches which would lead to delay in hearing of other civil and criminal matters.
The feeder cadre of chief justices and judges of the high courts have increased from 906 to 1,079 and new HCs have also been established in the previous years.
This has led to increase in the disposal of cases at the high court level leading to larger number of appeals to the Supreme Court.
Problems that needs to be corrected with respect to Supreme Court:
Should the Supreme Court go into the correctness of every decision of every high court
Valuable time is being taken up by mundane matters that do not impinge on larger questions that involve interpretation of laws and constitutional provisions
Routine bail matters land up in the Supreme Court within days of persons being arrested
Every major crime or disaster seems to invite public interest litigation which mentions the matter before the Chief Justice for urgent hearing. The court is being invited to even oversee flood relief work.
On top priority, to augment the judge strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public.
The retirement age of HC judges should be increased by three years.
This, in turn, would help to improve the vacancy position and, consequently, to reduce dependence on cases and also be in line with the (repeated) recommendations made by the permanent parliamentary committees.
Measures need in the way ahead:
A mere increase in the court’s strength may not be enough to liquidate the burgeoning docket.
- Another set of measures that would save the court’s time, including a reasonable restraint on the duration of oral arguments and a disciplined adherence to a schedule of hearings may be needed.
- In this case, one of the principal objectives should be to preserve the apex court’s primary role as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions and statutory interpretation.
- All other questions involving a final decision on routine matters, especially civil cases that involve nothing more than the interests of the parties before it, ought to be considered by a mechanism that will not detract from the court’s primary role.
- Some countries have brought in a clear division at the level of the apex judiciary by having separate constitutional courts, which limit themselves to deciding questions of constitutional importance.
- It may be worthwhile considering the 229th Report of the Law Commission, suggesting a new system under which there will be one Constitution Bench in Delhi, and four ‘Cassation Benches’ for different regions of the country.
- The 229th Report has also suggested territorial jurisdiction of each of these Cassation Benches of Supreme Court to be constituted under Article 130 of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 130 – Seat of Supreme Court – The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint.
- These will be final appellate courts for routine litigation.
- This arrangement may also increase access to justice to those living in far-flung areas of the country and who may otherwise have to come to Delhi and spend more time and money in pursuing appeals. It may also cut down on the time taken for disposal of cases.