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It’s time to revamp the structure of the Supreme Court

  • Published
    28th Nov, 2023

Context

Functioning and roles of Supreme Court are in light again.

Structural Challenges in the Supreme Court

  • Overburdened Judiciary: The Constitution Bench, mandated by Article 145(3), requires a minimum of five judges to address substantial constitutional questions or presidential references under Article 143.
  • Historical Proposals for Reform: In 1984, the Tenth Law Commission proposed a division of the Supreme Court into Constitutional and Legal Divisions. The Bihar Legal Support Society case (1986) suggested a National Court of Appeal, emphasizing the need to handle constitutional and public law issues separately.
  • Contemporary Debate on Structural Changes: The 229th Law Commission Report (2009) recommended regional benches to ease non-constitutional case backlogs. The current discourse revolves around addressing the overburdened judiciary and ensuring efficient case management.

Evolution of the Supreme Court

  • Historical Background: Colonial India had three Supreme Courts in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. The current Supreme Court, established on January 28, 1950, under Article 124, began with eight judges. Over the years, increasing workload led to a rise in judges, reaching 34 in 2019.
  • Overburdened Judiciary Today: With around 810 decisions annually, primarily through Constitution Benches, the Supreme Court faces challenges managing its workload. Only 4 of 1,263 decisions in 2022 were issued by a Constitution Bench, underscoring the need for structural adjustments.
  • Way Forward and Possible Reforms: Considering the workload and backlog, splitting the Supreme Court's responsibilities, designating certain benches as regional, could enhance judicial stability.

Addressing Structural Gaps

  • Critical Examination of Current Issues: The ongoing case of Vasanth Kumar v. H.C. Bhatia involves a Constitution Bench analyzing structural challenges. Measures are being considered to protect citizens' access to the Supreme Court, highlighting the need for a redefined and efficient judicial system.
  • Opportunity for Reform: Under CJI guidance, there's a chance to bridge structural gaps. Designating regional benches and redefining the court's role can enhance efficiency, ensuring the Supreme Court adapts to contemporary demands.
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