From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Constitution Bench
Mains level : Not Much
- CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, took a moment to address a lawyer’s misconceptions regarding the purpose of Constitution Benches in the Supreme Court.
What is a Constitution Bench?
- The constitution bench is the name given to the benches of the Supreme Court of India.
- The Chief Justice of India has the power to constitute a Constitution Bench and refer cases to it.
Constitution benches are set up when the following circumstances exist:
- Interpretation of the Constitution: Article 145(3) provides for the constitution of at least five judges of the court which sit to decide any case “involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution of India.
- President of India seeking SC’s opinion: When the President has sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on a question of fact or law under Article 143 of the Constitution. Article 143 of the Constitution provides for Advisory jurisdiction to the SC. As per the provision, the President has the power to address questions to the apex Court, which he deems important for public welfare.
- Conflicting Judgments: When two or more three-judge benches of the Supreme Court have delivered conflicting judgments on the same point of law, necessitating a definite understanding and interpretation of the law by a larger bench.
- The Constitution benches are set up on ad hoc basis as and when the above-mentioned conditions exist.
- Constitution benches have decided many of India’s best-known and most important Supreme Court cases, such as:
- K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, 1950 (Preventive detention)
- Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, 1972 (OBC reservations) etc.
- Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973 (Basic structure doctrine) and
Critique and Response
- A Lawyer’s Concern: A litigant had expressed concerns in a letter to the top court’s Secretary General, suggesting that the court was investing excessive time in Constitution Bench cases, neglecting public interest petitions that directly impact common individuals.
- Court’s Defense: CJI challenged this notion, emphasizing that not all Constitution Bench cases revolve around the interpretation of the Constitution.
- Examples Matter: He provided an example of a recent Constitution Bench case concerning whether a person holding a light motor vehicle license can operate a commercial vehicle. This directly affects the livelihood of countless drivers across the nation.
CJI Dispelling Misconceptions
- Not Just “Fancy” Matters: CJI clarified that the Supreme Court doesn’t convene Constitution Benches solely for matters detached from the everyday concerns of ordinary citizens.
- Voice of the Nation: He highlighted instances like the Article 370 abrogation challenge, where the court engaged with the “voice of the nation.” Stakeholders from the Valley actively participated in extensive hearings.
Arguments against such hearings
- People’s Perspective: The Advocate clarified that his objection wasn’t against the court hearing Constitution Bench matters but rather the court’s engagement in public policy issues without adequate public input.
- Court’s Response: CJI countered this argument, citing the Article 370 case as an example where groups of individual interveners from the Valley actively presented their perspectives to the court.
- Balancing Act: CJI’s remarks underscore the delicate balance between addressing constitutional matters and matters of public interest, highlighting that both have their place in the Supreme Court’s agenda.
- Inclusive Justice: The exchange between the Chief Justice and the lawyer reflects the importance of ensuring that the court’s decisions consider the perspectives and concerns of the broader public, especially in cases with significant societal impact.