- Apprentice Lawyer
Rajya Sabha member and Senior Advocate P Wilson has written to Union Law Minister RS Prasad urging the Government to introduce a bill so that Article 130 of the Constitution can be amended to provide for permanent regional Benches of the Supreme Court at New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
In his letter dated December 16, Wilson higlights that at present, a sole Bench of the Supreme Court at New Delhi hampers the fundamental right of access to justice, particularly under Article 32 of the Constitution.
He adds that the State has a fundamental duty under Article 39 to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
While so, it is pointed out that access to the Supreme Court under Article 32 for the enforcement of fundamental rights is presently only available to citizens who are geographically close to the Supreme Court or in Delhi and the financially privileged class for whom the costs of litigation and travel does not matter.
"... a person who cannot afford to go to Delhi, or afford the fees of the lawyers at Delhi, which is invariably higher due to demand, is left without an appellate remedy... For justice to reach to every nook and corner of the country and for establishing the faith of every individual to the judiciary, it is essential to establish the benches of the Supreme Court... Access to Justice is not the preserve of the rich, but the right of every person in this great nation", reads the letter.
Other litigants from Southern, South-Western and Eastern States are virtually deprived of their right to approach the top court "not only due to distance but also due to the cost factor", the letter states.
It is also pointed out that the setting up of more Supreme Court Benches would aid in reducing the mounting case pendency before the Court.
The expansion in the top court's PIL jurisdiction has come with a rise in case pendency, it is noted. With only 34 seats at the Supreme Court and a population of about 133 crores in India, the Judge to person ratio right now stands at 1:3,91,17,647. Roughly 63,000 cases pending before the Supreme Court as per statistics on the Supreme Court website, it is further observed.
It is noted further that a regular reason for adjournments in the Supreme Court is that counsel have to travel from various parts of the country to the top court.
"Having Regional Benches and splitting up of the cases with more judges to hear them will certainly make it easy for the lawyers and the litigants", Wilson adds.
Moreover, Wilson highlights that Parliamentary standing committees have endorsed setting up regional Benches of the Supreme Court in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. This measure has further been backed by various Law Commissions as well as the Indian Vice-President, Venkaiah Naidu, in a speech rendered last year.
The Constitution's framers had also understood that there may come a time when the Supreme Court must sit in places other than Delhi, Wilson states, adding:
"That is why Article 130 is framed as 'The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time appoint.'"
Whereas a Full Court of the Supreme Court had earlier rejected a proposal to set up regional Benches in 2010 on apprehensions that this would affect the “country’s unitary character”, Wilson has pointed out that this concern has been allayed by Parliamentary Committees. In any case, the final say on the issue would be with the Parliament, he adds.
"The final say in this issue cannot be left to the decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court because administration of justice is still a subject over which the Parliament has legislative competence. In any case, the independence of the Judiciary will not be affected if Permanent Regional Benches are established", reads the letter.
He explains further that even if regional Supreme Court Benches are constituted:
Judges will still be selected as per the Memorandum of Procedure, which involves the collegium of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice of India will continue to be master of roster and will presumably have full control to allocate Judges to these Permanent Benches.
As such, the apprehension that the establishment of Permanent Regional Benches of the Supreme Court will affect the unitary character of the Supreme Court is unfounded, Wilson asserts.
He adds that it is not enough that an intermediate court between the Supreme Court and the High Court be established.
"When finality of decisions can be reached only in the Supreme Court, introduction of an intermediate Court between the High Court and Supreme Court would only hamper and delay the finalization of justice", Wilson opines.
In view of these concerns, Wilson has urged that the Centre introduced an appropriate bill to set up regional Benches of the Supreme Court. In his letter, Wilson also informs that he has already introduced a private member's Bill on the subject.