CJI Chandrachud has announced that constitution benches with varying sizes will now be a permanent fixture within the Supreme Court. This long-awaited reform should be prioritized and fast-tracked.
What is the rationale behind having constitution benches with varying sizes in the Supreme Court? How can it further improve the delivery of justice? (10 marks, 150 words).
Rationale behind the judgement:
- Article 145(3) mandates that cases dealing with a “significant legal issue” related to the Constitution’s interpretation require a panel of at least five judges for hearing. Currently, there are 306 cases awaiting decisions from such five-judge panels.
- Additionally, 135 cases are in line for nine-judge panels. It’s important to clarify that this includes 130 related cases alongside five main cases.
- This highlights the gravity of judgments made by larger benches, as they have extensive and enduring consequences. A notable example is the “basic structure” doctrine, established by a 13-judge bench in the Kesavanada Bharati case, which has had a far-reaching and lasting impact on the legal landscape.
Reasons behind the long time taken for this reform to occur:
- India’s highest court handles an extensive backlog of over 80,000 cases, reflecting its role as a “people’s court.”
- Consequently, when a nine-judge bench convenes, it consumes a substantial portion, accounting for 26%, of the court’s allotted strength of 34 judges.
- During tenures such as that of CJI Ramana, which lack constitution bench hearings, it raises questions about the prioritization of cases that directly impact the public versus those considered more specialized or constitutional in nature.
For instance, the lower courts must significantly improve their performance. Regarding bail cases, the Supreme Court has frequently encountered situations where it believes that “the trial courts are failing to grasp the full scope of its directives.” This places a considerable burden on the Supreme Court’s workload. However, unless there are more constitution benches established, the scope of fundamental rights for Indian citizens will also remain limited.