New Delhi: On Monday, 11 January, not one, but two five-judge Constitution benches will hear cases in the Supreme Court from 2pm.
There will also be four three-judge bench combinations, as new chief justice T.S. Thakur tries to reduce the backlog of cases. Thakur had first promised to introduce these benches on 10 December.
Reducing backlog is part of Thakur’s plan of action for his tenure.
Each of the five-judge benches have been allotted two cases for 11 January, while the three-judge benches have five each. 24 cases, pending for want of a larger combination of judges, could be heard and decided. Among these are cases on whether the right to life includes the right to die with dignity, the power of a government to remove a governor and the Aadhaar case.
But it is not like the Supreme Court is doing extra work. Originally, when the strength of the apex court was seven judges, the Supreme Court was to have a regular five-judge bench for deciding constitutional questions. A two-judge bench would decide other issues.
However, an increase in litigation across the country over the years prompted the court to form more combinations of two-judge benches for disposing of cases.
A study conducted by a group of lawyers last year reported by The Financial Express found that only 7.23% of judgments delivered in 2014 were on constitutional questions. Most others were decisions from appeals filed from different high courts and tribunals.
Now, the apex court’s prescribed strength is 31 judges, where 61,300 cases were pending on 31 March 2015. Former chief justice H.L. Dattu, while retiring on 2 December, claimed to have reduced the number by 6000 cases from 64000 to 58000. The court website has not been updated to reflect these figures.
While setting up these benches is certainly a positive move, reducing pendency cannot be all that simple. Mint reported last month that the Supreme Court on an average took two years to decide a Constitution bench case (that is, one which requires five judges to hear the case).