The National Court Appeal with regional benches in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata is meant to act as final court of justice in dealing with appeals from the decisions of the High Courts and tribunals within their region in civil, criminal, labour and revenue matters. In such a scenario, a much-relieved Supreme Court of India situated in Delhi would only hear matters of constitutional law and public law. A National Court of Appeal is being advocated as an intermediate forum between the Supreme Court and the various high courts of India.
The Supreme Court is saddled with civil and criminal appeals that arise out of everyday and even mundane disputes. As a result of entertaining these appeals, the Supreme Court’s real mandate – that of a Constitutional Court, the ultimate arbiter on disputes concerning any interpretation of the Constitution – is not fulfilled. By taking up the Supreme Court’s appeals jurisdiction, the NCA will give the former more time for its primal functions.
A National Court of Appeal will help clear the backlog of cases and maintain the Supreme Court’s position as the apex court of the land.
The NCA would relieve the Supreme Court of the weight of hearing regular civil and criminal appeals, allowing the court to concentrate on determining only fundamental questions of constitutional importance. Additionally, it has been argued that the NCA’s regional benches would allow greater access to litigants from remote parts of the country, for whom the distance to New Delhi acts as a grave barrier to justice.
A court of appeal can work as an excellent mechanism to sieve cases. If there are areas of law that are particularly unsettled and need clarification, the court of appeal can club them together and send these forward to the Supreme Court. Not only can a number of individual cases be disposed of but areas of law can also be settled and a clear precedent set.
The Supreme Court itself, as early as in 1986, had recommended establishment of an NCA with regional Benches at Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata to ease the burden of the Supreme Court and avoid hardship to litigants who have to come all the way to Delhi to fight their cases.
But subsequent Chief Justices of India were not inclined to the idea of bifurcation of judicial powers, and that of forming regional benches of the apex court. A government order in 2014 too rejected the proposal that such a court of appeal is constitutionally impermissible. The outlook changed in February 2016 when the Supreme Court admitted Chennai lawyer V. Vasanthakumar’s petition for setting up an NCA.
The Centre rejected Mr. Vasanthakumar’s proposal for a National Court of Appeal with regional Benches. The Ministry cited three grounds for rejecting the idea – The Supreme Court always sits in Delhi as per the Constitution; the Chief Justices of India in the past have “consistently opposed” the idea of an NCA or regional benches to the Supreme Court; and the Attorney-General said an NCA would “completely change the constitution of the Supreme Court”.
The Supreme Court in March 2016 decided to form a Constitution Bench to debate the idea of an NCA. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said that it was time to debate if the Supreme Court was too burdened to provide equal justice to all. A verdict in favour of NCA would act as a great influence on Parliament to amend the Constitution itself to make room for NCA.
Ireland has enacted the law for NCA in 2013 after six years’ debate.
The government, however, holds that the idea is a “fruitless endeavour” and will not lessen the burden of 2 Crore cases pending in trial courts. On April 26, 2016, Attorney-General told the bench, “We will only be adding to lawyers’ pockets. The Supreme Court should not consider this when its own dockets are full.” Legal experts feel that setting up of regional benches will dilute the constitutional superiority of the Supreme Court. Dilution of the Supreme Court and its aura as an apex court may not be in line with the concept of the Supreme Court envisioned by the architects of the Constitution.
Ideally, there is only one Supreme Court. The issue of proximity is relevant only up to high courts and can’t be extended to the Supreme Court. There are enough high court benches to address that issue. Then you need to have a super Supreme Court to settle the difference of opinions between different benches.