Supreme Court sets up new benches for tax, criminal cases
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New Delhi: India’s apex court has constituted a special bench that will hear taxation cases from 9 March in an attempt to deal with a backlog of 10,843 cases.
The move is likely to find favour with investors worried about the slow progress of tax cases in the country.
Mint couldn’t immediately ascertain the value of tax demands underlying the cases, which deal with both direct and indirect taxes.
However, the tax cases account for around a fifth of all cases before the Supreme Court.
“It is a welcome move, it is a good move. More than reducing pendency, it will result in expeditious and quick disposal of tax cases. In fact, as time passes, you will need more than one bench to deal with the quantum of cases,” said Vikas Srivastava, tax partner at Luthra and Luthra, a law firm.
Senior lawyer Arvind Datar, who deals extensively with tax cases, said that it (the new tax bench) is “a step in the right direction”.
The court is constituting a similar bench to hear cases case pertaining to criminal law, with a priority for those cases where bail has been denied by a high court or a lower court.
On Monday, M.K. Hanjura, registrar, Supreme Court, announced the decision to constitute these two new benches.
This is the second such decision by chief justice of India H.L. Dattu. In December, he constituted a social justice bench, which hears cases related to human rights violations and similar public interest litigations on Fridays. In contrast, the bench for tax cases will sit on all working days of the week—Monday to Friday.
Supreme Court lawyer Sidharth Luthra called the bench to hear criminal cases “an excellent move”.
“The Supreme Court has taken a crucial decision to expedite criminal appeals when a person is in custody. The norm in the Supreme Court is that a person must surrender in a Criminal SLP (special leave petition) before it can be heard, and only in rare cases is a person given exemption from surrender. Since by and large, the rule in the Supreme Court is that bail is not granted at the first stage—at the stage of admission—a dedicated bench being created for hearing appeals of persons in custody would further the cause of justice both for the accused and the victim.”
Chairperson of the Delhi Judicial Academy B.T. Kaul, too, welcomed the move. “I hope that the bench is constituted and cases are put on fast track. It provides hope for those people languishing in jail. Criminal justice moves at a slow pace. It is important to uphold the civil liberties of people. There are a variety of reasons why bail is denied, some people cannot afford to pay the amount,” said Kaul.
“Earlier, there was a Supreme Court order seeking to release undertrials who have spent more than half the time in jail for an offence they’re being tried for. The court gave impetus to Section 436A (of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973). Those who can afford bail get out, those who can’t afford, they don’t. It’s important for these cases to be heard expeditiously.”