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Judicial comity over arithmetic

GS paper 2

Syllabus: Judiciary structure, functioning and conduct of business, Role of constitutional benches etc


Directions: This is an editorial article.

Source: The Hindu

Context: A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has unanimously held that a judgment delivered by a larger Bench will prevail over the decision of a smaller Bench, irrespective of the number of judges constituting the majority in the larger Bench.

Positive Implications:

  • Stability and consistency: It seeks to ensure that there is stability and consistency in the decisions of the court.
  • Correct decisions: A bench with more strength is more likely to arrive at a correct decision.


Mechanism of functioning of benches:




Issue with larger benches:

  • A majority decision is treated as the ruling of the entire Bench ignoring the opinion of the dissenting judges, that examined the question.
  • If a larger Bench arrived at a decision by a slim majority (say, 4:3 in a seven-judge Bench): Its correctness can be doubted on the presumption that had the Bench comprised different judges, the outcome might have been different.


Doctrine of Precedents:

  • The doctrine refers to a decision that has already been taken by a higher court is binding to the lower court and at the same time stands as a precedent to the lower court judgment, which cannot be altered by a lower court.
  • This principle is known as Stare decisis.
  • Article 141: stipulates that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all Courts within the territory of India.


Consequences of a decision based on a number of judges rather than a bench:

  • Every decision of a larger bench could be doubted and overruled on the ground of plurality of opinions, thereby toppling the certainty and stability of decisions.
  • Correctness of a decision would become a game of numbers rather than reasons.


Recommendation to avoid such conflicts:

There should be a quorum with a break-even or a greater majority than the lower Bench: For example, If a five-judge unanimous decision is referred to a larger Bench, it should be considered by a nine-judge Bench rather than seven, so that it would, in any case, be decided by a majority of at least five judges.


Constitution bench:

  • It is the name given to the benches of the Supreme Court of India which consist of at least five judges of the court which sit to decide any case:
  • Involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution of India
  • For the purpose of hearing any reference” made by the President of India under Article 143.
  • This provision has been mandated by Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India.
  • The Chief Justice of India has the power to constitute a Constitution Bench and refer cases to it.


Insta Links:

Reforms brought by CJI Lalit in SC


Mains Links:

Q. Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgment on ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014’ with reference to appointment of judges of higher judiciary in India.(UPSC 2017)


Prelims Links:

  • CJI
  • Appointment of CJI
  • National Judicial Data Grid rolling
  • Article 21
  • First Judges case
  • Second Judges case
  • Third Judges case
  • NJAC

With reference to Constitutional bench, consider the following statements:

  1. The formation of a constitutional bench is mandated by the constitution of India.
  2. Power to constitute and referring of cases to constitutional benches lies with CJI

Which of the statements given above is/are not correct?

a. 1 only

b. 2 only

c. Both 1 and 2

d. Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: (d)


Refer to article above