Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] Bigger and better: On number of Supreme Court judges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial vacancies and pendency


Union Cabinet took a decision to raise the strength of the Supreme Court from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India. Any move to increase the strength of the judiciary ought to be welcomed.

Reasons for increasing strength

  1. Availability of judges is not increasing in proportion to the institution of cases
  2. This will help in dealing with the large pendency of cases: 59,331 cases on July 11
  3. The law that fixes the number of judges in the highest court was last amended in 2009 to raise the figure from 26 to 31
  4. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had written to the PM recently, highlighting the problem of paucity of judges, due to which he was unable to constitute enough Constitution Benches to decide important questions of law

Problems with Supreme Court

  1. Should the Supreme Court go into the correctness of every decision of every high court
  2. Valuable time is being taken up by mundane matters that do not impinge on larger questions that involve interpretation of laws and constitutional provisions
    1. Routine bail matters land up in the Supreme Court within days of persons being arrested
    2. Every major crime or disaster seems to invite public interest litigation which mentions the matter before the Chief Justice for urgent hearing. The court is being invited to even oversee flood relief work.

Way ahead

  1. A mere increase in the court’s strength may not be enough to liquidate the burgeoning docket
  2. Reasonable restraint on the duration of oral arguments and disciplined adherence to a schedule of hearings may be needed
  3. Preserve the apex court’s primary role as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions and statutory interpretation. All other questions involving a final decision on routine matters, especially civil cases ought to be considered by a mechanism that will not detract from the court’s primary role
  4. Some countries have brought in a clear division at the level of the apex judiciary by having separate constitutional courts, which limit themselves to deciding questions of constitutional importance
  5. 229th Report of the Law Commission suggested a new system under which there will be one Constitution Bench in Delhi, and four ‘Cassation Benches’ for different regions of the country. This may also increase access to justice to those living in far-flung areas of the country
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