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Author: Sanni Kumar, V year of B.S.L.,LL.B. from Manikchand Pahade Law College Aurangabad, Maharashtra

The Indian Judicial System is based on the Constitution, which divides the courts into two categories: superior and inferior. The Supreme and High Courts are Superior Courts, whereas all other courts, such as District and Special Courts, are Subordinate Courts.

There are several High Courts, some of which have more than one bench (branch). New Delhi is home to the Supreme Court. The Apex Court, unlike the High Courts, has only one site and one bench. However, there have always been discussions of establishing Supreme Court benches in other parts of the country.

Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court has stated that the Supreme Court should include regional or circuit benches outside of Delhi. He further encouraged the Central government to explore establishing circuit or permanent benches of all tribunals in New Delhi, as well as the Bar Council of India, in each regional zone "as soon as possible" for the "benefit of the common man." P Wilson, a Rajya Sabha member and Senior Advocate, wrote to Union Law Minister R S Prasad a few months ago, encouraging him to file a bill to alter Article 130 of the Constitution to create permanent Supreme Court regional benches in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. This debate, on the other hand, is not new. It's been debated in a number of law commission reports and with the Supreme Court.

Law Commission on Regional Benches

The number of Supreme Court judges has been raised on several occasions in the past. However, just increasing the number of judges will not result in a faster trial of cases. Regional benches were advocated in the 95th, 120th, 125th, and 229th Law Commission reports.

According to the 95th report from 1984, "the Supreme Court of India shall consist of two divisions, namely (a) Constitutional Division and (b) Legal Division," and "only constitutional law problems may be brought to the proposed Constitutional Division."

The manpower planning in the court was discussed in the 120th Report in 1987. It discussed the issue of having fewer judges in compared to the judiciary's expanding burden.

The 125th Report, published in 1988, reaffirmed the 95th Report's suggestion to split the Supreme Court into two halves. "... "On a few of occasions, the Government of India sought the Supreme Court's opinion on creating a bench in the South,". Those travelling from far-flung locations such as Tamil Nadu in the south, Gujarat in the west, and Assam and other states in the east spend a lot of money to go to the Supreme Court."

Following that, in 2009, the 229th Report proposed that "a Constitution Bench be established in Delhi to deal with constitutional and other related problems... and four Cassation Benches be established in the Northern region/zone at Delhi, the Southern region/zone at Chennai/Hyderabad, the Eastern region/zone at Kolkata, and the Western region/zone at Mumbai to deal with all appellate work arising out of the High Courts of the respective region's orders/judgments." Only the applicable law is interpreted by cassation benches (or courts). They are the highest-level appellate courts. Cases involving non-Constitutional challenges from lower courts would be decided by them.

Why so much pendency in the apex court?

Judges usually sit in two- or three-judge Benches to deal with a variety of issues, including some non-Constitutional and very minor problems, because to their tremendous workload. Even PILs requesting that Sardar jokes be outlawed or Muslims be expelled from the nation have been heard by the Supreme Court on occasion. The fact that India's Supreme Court is possibly the most powerful court in the world, with a vast jurisdiction, explains the high workload. It handles cases between the Centre and states, as well as those involving two or more states; it rules on civil and criminal appeals; and it advises the President on legal and factual issues. Anyone can go to the Supreme Court immediately if they believe there has been a breach of the FIRs. As a result, the Supreme Court is now hearing over 65,000 cases, with appeals taking years to resolve.

Why is it proposed that regional courts of appeal be established?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, with the exception of cases that must be handled by a court or tribunal under any legislation pertaining to the military services, in which case it can apply its authority to any case in any Indian court. While it is therefore the last court of appeal for virtually every matter originating anywhere in India, one component of its operation is critical: judging constitutional disputes, or those involving concerns of the legality of any statute or legislative action.

However, as the court has been increasingly overburdened with civil and criminal appeals, it has been able to dedicate less and less time to deciding on constitutional issues. Only 64 of the 888 final judgements announced by the supreme court that year featured a constitutional case, according to a report from 2014, with only 14 of those judgments delivered by a five-judge bench, which is required for considering constitutional concerns.

According to a report released in August this year, the Supreme Court is now hearing 50 constitutional cases, including the Article 370 abrogation case and petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act, both of which are significant political issues for the country.

Attorney General KK Venugopal underlined the need of the Supreme Court being "relieved of all this weight of rent control, matrimonial, and so on" "At a meeting in New Delhi to honour Constitution Day," referring to appeals that eventually end up on the Supreme Court's docket for final determination. He claims that the Supreme Court cannot "really claim to be a constitutional court" since it has expanded its writ to embrace every type of matter resolved by a high court ".

His proposal, which has been floated for decades, is to establish four regional courts of appeal, each with 15 justices. "I see at least four zones with Courts of Appeal: north, south, west, and east." We're bringing on 60 new judges to handle the cases, which will drastically reduce the amount of time they take to resolve. It would be lowered to the point that the Supreme Court would no longer require the 34 justices it currently has," Venugopal said, adding that "15 judges sitting on three constitution benches of five each would be adequate to deal with constitutional disputes."

Because of its location in Delhi, the Supreme Court is inaccessible to the great majority of people

Justice must not only be done, but also seen to be done, according to an old proverb. The Supreme Court is the final cog in the legal system's wheel. Several cases that originate in lesser courts or the High Courts eventually reach the Supreme Court, which decides on the case's finality. For many plaintiffs and attorneys, access to justice is illusory since the Supreme Court is located in New Delhi.

Not everyone has the financial or logistical resources to go to Delhi for every hearing. All people have the right to justice and access to justice, according to Article 21 of the Constitution. Yet, in the face of the practical reality of the Supreme Court's physical remoteness from the great majority of our fellow citizens, it becomes a mirage.

Apart from serving as a Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court is primarily responsible for hearing appeals from High Courts and tribunals under Article 136 of the Constitution. Article 136 grants the Supreme Court special leave authority, which was intended to be utilised in matters involving legal issues. However, in today's world, the Supreme Court is solely involved in the determination of appeals.

Political leaders, the Indian Law Commission, and Parliamentary Standing Committees have all offered several proposals

Not only did the law panel debate it, but the Hon'ble Vice President also urged that the Supreme Court establish four regional benches to deal with the massive backlog of cases and ensure that they are resolved quickly. The Hon'ble Vice President also agreed with the Law Commission of India's suggestion that the Supreme Court be divided into two sections. They were also mentioned in the Congress platform for this year's Lok Sabha elections, in addition to the Law Commission. However, they have not sparked a real debate, and the Supreme Court has expressed opposition to these notions.In December last year, Rajya Sabha member and Senior Advocate P. Wilson wrote to then-Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, requesting the government to propose a Bill to alter Article 130 of the Constitution to create regional Supreme Court benches in Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. This is not a new desire. A Advocate from the Gauhati High Court has also asked for a Supreme Court regional bench in the North-East.

Argument for multiple Benches

Article 39A states that "the state shall guarantee that the operation of the judicial system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall... ensure that possibilities for attaining justice are not denied to any citizen due to economic or other disadvantages." It is self-evident that most plaintiffs cannot afford to fly to New Delhi or hire costly Supreme Court lawyers to prosecute a case. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, Parliamentary Standing Committees suggested that the court's benches be relocated. In 2008, the Committee recommended that at least one trial bench be established in Chennai. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has rejected the plan, believing that it will tarnish the court's reputation. "The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or at such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may from time to time, with the agreement of the President, appoint," according to Article 130. The Chief Justice of India has the ability to form Benches under Supreme Court Rules; for example, he can have a Constitution Bench of seven judges in New Delhi and smaller Benches in four or six locations around the nation.

Have Any Other Countries Tried Something Similar?

Separate constitutional courts existed in around 55 nations throughout the world in 2009, according to the Law Commission, with the earliest of them created in Austria in 1920.

"For the adjudication of non-constitutional questions, several continental nations have constitutional courts as well as ultimate courts of appeal called courts of cassation (Cour de Cassation in French)." "A court of cassation is the judicial court of last resort, with the ability to suppress (casser in French) or overturn decisions of lower courts," according to the statement. According to reports, Ireland established a new Court of Appeal in 2014, with the primary purpose of hearing appeals from the high court and circuit court.

Potential Risk

However, accessibility may be a double-edged sword. While establishing regional benches might improve the efficiency of justice delivery, it can also increase the number of litigation. Using the Supreme Court as an example,aresearch found that access was exclusively responsible for the change in workload of the Supreme Court, which is one of the world's most accessible superior courts. If regional benches become a reality, the number of litigation that would result is unavoidable. The implementation of regional benches might increase the backlog by lowering the costs of litigation and making it easier to access.

Another issue that the Supreme Court is dealing with is inconsistency in judgements as a result of its massive caseload. The Supreme Court, as the country's highest judicial authority, is obligated to provide judgements that give clarity on a specific legal issue. However, as previously stated, the majority of cases heard by the Supreme Court are determined by two- or three-judge panels. These benches have a history of ignoring precedent and adding to a growing amount of contradictory precedent.

In other jurisdictions, attorneys frequently advise clients on whether their case will be successful in court based on their knowledge of precedent (which is closely observed). However, in India, this body of contradictory precedent is driving an increasing number of parties to go to court rather than settle out of court. This has produced a vicious cycle: the Supreme Court's vast docket hinders overburdened justices from adequately considering cases, resulting in a corpus of irrational judgments and unresolved law, and, in turn, more and more cases being brought before the Supreme Court.

The installation of regional benches may exacerbate the problem. With more judges in different parts of the country, there will be more litigation and, as a result, a greater chance of altering legal principles. The Supreme Court itself had rejected the call for regional benches in 2010, fearing that it would jeopardise the country's unitary character. However, in view of the court's ever-growing docket and other related problems, it may be time to consider these advantages and disadvantages and choose a course of action that will reduce the burden and focus more attention on important constitutional issues.


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