Establishing circuit benches can help reduce the burden

Somnath Chatterjee, Former Speaker, Lok Sabha  IN THE ECONOMIC TIMES


It is not just a question of the Supreme Court (SC) needing to shed some of its works. It is a question about how the functioning the entire legal system can be improved to make it serve the real purpose of a judiciary in the country, particularly to deliver speedy justice to the ordinary people at an affordable cost.

So far as the SC is concerned, we need to introspect whether ordinary citizens are really able to approach the apex court, given the geographical distance from different corners of the country, the problem of finding accommodation and the arduous process of engaging a good lawyer in Delhi. Ordinary citizens cannot dream of approaching the SC.

So, the inevitable question: is this the situation that was contemplated by the founding fathers of our Constitution? Every person concerned with judiciary should give a serious thought to this problem.

Recently, the prime minister said speedy justice should be provided to ordinary citizens at an affordable cost. But the situation today is such that only the rich, corporate or ‘some people with sponsors’ can approach the apex court. I have the highest respect for the SC. But, to my mind, to provide real justice to ordinary people at the apex court, it is essential to set up circuit benches in different parts of the country. The usual argument against it was that it will bifurcate/trifurcate the SC itself and diminish its authority and status. Such an argument must be rejected. Question can never be of all learned judges sitting at the same place but, dispersing justice to the litigants, including ordinary citizens, in an appropriate manner.

I was asked whether it was necessary to curtail the SC’s jurisdiction to only very important issues and not burden it with ordinary litigation, including appeals. I feel 2-3 SC judges could constitute the circuit benches and dispose of the appeals at different centres in their capacity as SC judges, making their judgements final. The Chief Justice of India will remain in Delhi with other learned judges who would decide on issues of constitutional importance or of great national importance — those cases that may be so designated by the bench in Delhi or other circuit benches.

I am not suggesting this is the only method that can be applied. But at least serious thought be given and action taken to ensure speedy and efficient justice for common man at reasonable cost. Also, identifying maladies and then expecting changes will happen on their own will not do. I had the privilege of seeing the first bench of SC functioning at Parliament building. They had the most difficult judicial work to do in the formative years after Independence and the constitution of the SC. Yet, they have delivered judgements that have endured forever.

The problems that have cropped up today are not due to the increase in the number of litigation with population growth. But one needs to examine what types of litigation before the SC that have multiplied and what innovation has been introduced. Also, we need to consider whether enlargement of the scope of litigation in different high courts and Supreme Court have caused proliferation of litigation.

2 Responses

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  1. Prof G S Bajpai said, on May 13, 2010 at 14:51

    The idea of circuit benches has a merit. Resisting it means not being pro-people. The argumenets agaisnt this idea are largely the apprehensions of losing control or eroding effectiveness of the apex couirt. But this could turn out to be an enabling initiative whereby the people of this huge country can access the apex court easily.

  2. Vijyant Nigam said, on May 24, 2010 at 16:59

    the sole motto of the constitution of india i.e. by the people & for the people could only b achieved by process of establishing circuit benches of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and the same will also reduce the commercialisation of the Advocacy

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