This summer, the Supreme Court (SC) of India intended to address the issue of pendency of cases by truncating its vacation. The Chief Justice of India JS Khehar, while taking this decision, had said that the court was ready to sit even on weekends to address issues of grave importance.
There are written rules which fix vacations in the Supreme Court or different high courts, be it for summer or for winters, which witness around a weeklong vacation.
A vacation bench of the Supreme Court or high courts usually hears matters of urgent and immediate importance, while adjourning the other cases for a date post completion of vacation. Increasing pendency of cases across judiciary have prompted the government to take such a step.
Before a day’s regular hearing begins, the bench hears the matters which are mentioned by lawyers which include cases which could not be listed due to any reason but require an urgent hearing.
The urgency of those matters is decided by the court either by accepting them for hearing, putting them for hearing at a later date or rejecting them, and then the court proceeds with the cases listed for hearing.
A Constitution bench comprises of an odd number of judges, in multiples of five, seven, nine and thirteen judges, and is constituted when a constitutional issue is to be heard.
The following issues were heard by different Constitution benches of the apex court in the summer vacation of the year 2017:
– Petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Triple Talaq:
Petitions were heard for 6 consecutive days before being reserved for judgement.
– Petitions seeking clarification on right to privacy with respect to WhatsApp’s data sharing policy with its parent company Facebook:
Bench refused to examine the right to privacy, and the case was adjourned.
– Whether children born to illegal migrants could be accorded Indian citizenship:
Hearing couldn’t take place since most senior lawyers slated to appear in the case had to also appear before the other 2 benches and putting
up a case for hearing during vacation without consent from lawyers would’ve marked a departure from convention.
It’s a prerogative of the Parliament to increase the number of judges in the Supreme Court according to needs of justice delivery.
An increase in workload and pendency of cases over the years has led to an increase in number of sanctioned vacancies of judges in the Supreme Court from 8 in 1950 to 31 on the present date.
The constitution of benches has also changed with time. Initially all the judges sat together, and with time judges started sitting in smaller benches of two and three.
This summer vacation also witnessed a situation after several decades, in which a single judge heard and disposed off 33 cases. It was a scheduled 2 judge bench but since Justice M Shantanagoudar was unavailable, Justice Deepak Gupta held the court alone.
This was also unprecedented since Supreme Court’s rules state that a minimum quorum of two judges is required to hear cases, and the hearing was conducted after the CJI had convinced Justice Gupta to proceed with hearing the cases alone.
The 2013 Supreme Court rules mandate that the duration of the summer vacation cannot exceed seven weeks, and till late the apex court was availing it for the entire duration. This truncation of vacation is a step in the direction of addressing matters of pressing concern and pendency of cases.
But for this measure to succeed further, an elaborate support across the higher judiciary and senior lawyers not only to bypass convention, but also to ensure involvement of eminent jurists in decisions of constitutional importance.