Recently, the Andhra Pradesh State Committee of the All India Lawyer’s Union (“the AILU”) organised a State Convention in Hyderabad. It highlighted the agony of the litigant public in going to New Delhi from distant places in South India to attend to cases in the Supreme Court, and demanded a bench of the Supreme Court for South India. Pavan Kumar presents a brief background to the debate.
Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer, while inaugurating a similar convention of lawyers from the southern states, had observed: “A large number of the people in the country are below the poverty line and it is not possible for them to travel up to New Delhi for fighting their case in the Apex Court. The Supreme Court of India would become the Supreme Court of the people of India if it takes the lead in establishing benches in four zones of the country … If the bench of the Supreme Court had been set up for a while in Hyderabad and found useful, benches can be rationally and pragmatically set up in other centres where chartered high courts are functioning…”
Article 130 of the Constitution of India, 1950 (“the Constitution“) empowers the Chief Justice of India, with the approval of the President, to appoint a place or places other than Delhi, as the seat of the Supreme Court. However, none of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court have yet favoured the invocation of this enabling provision.
Under the chairmanship of Dr. Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, the Law Commission suo motu took up the subject for consideration. It noted the dire need for a solution for the unbearable load of arrears under which the Supreme Court is functioning, as well as the unbearable cost of litigation for those living in far-flung areas of the country. The Commission also noted that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice (“the Commission“) in its Second (2004), Sixth (2005), and Fifteenth (2006) Reports has repeatedly suggested that in order to make speedy justice available to the common man, benches of the Supreme Court had to be established in the Southern, Western and North-Eastern parts of the country. The Commission finally recommended the setting up of a Constitution bench at Delhi to deal with constitutional and allied issues, and four ‘Cassation Benches’. A court of cassation is the judicial court of last resort and has power to quash (‘casser’ in French) decisions of the inferior courts. The recommendation was for such courts to be set up for the northern region at Delhi, the southern region at Chennai or Hyderabad, the eastern region at Kolkata, and the western region at Mumbai, to deal with all the appellate work arising out of the orders or judgments of the high courts of the particular region. (Click here to see the 229th Law Commission Report, August 2009.)
However, in February 2010, the full court of the Supreme Court (twenty-seven judges, led by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan), rejected the Law Commission’s suggestion. In a unanimous resolution, the full court reiterated its stand that dividing the Supreme Court would affect the country’s unitary character. Previously, successive Parliamentary Standing Committees on Law and Justice have said that setting up benches outside Delhi “would neither impair unity and integrity nor undermine the importance of the Supreme Court.” Eventually, the Central Government also dropped the idea for the moment, relying on the reservations expressed by the Attorney General, Ghoolam Vahanvati.
The issue did not die down. Senior Advocate K.K Venugopal pointed out that instead of establishing more benches of the Supreme Court, the establishment of four regional Courts of Appeal would be a more effective means to ensure that the poorest litigant from the farthest corner of India has inexpensive and ready access to justice. According to him, four regional Courts of Appeal need to be established as final appellate courts, while restricting the Supreme Court of India to its true function as a Constitutional Court.
What do you feel is the correct formula to take the Supreme Court to all parts of the country? Tell us in the comments below.