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Vice President Venkaiah Naidu bats for setting up Regional Benches of Supreme Court
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Vice President Venkaiah Naidu bats for setting up Regional Benches of Supreme Court

Bar & Bench

The Vice President and Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Venkaiah Naidu recently advocated for the setting up of regional Benches of the Supreme Court, with at least one such Bench in Chennai. 

While suggesting measures to improve the justice delivery system, he said, 

We need to bring the judicial system closer to people. Expanding the Supreme Court bench and having separate benches in different regions and at least one in Chennai on trial basis has been suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice. I tend to agree with this recommendation. I think it is high time we had more benches because in a country as vast as India the litigants have to travel long distances and spend a huge amount of money and energy.”

Venkaiah Naidu made the suggestion during the launch of a book titled ‘Listening, Learning and Leading’ chronicling Naidu’s role as Vice President of the upper house over the last two years by Home Minister Amit Shah at an event held in Chennai on Sunday.

Among other things, Naidu also noted that there was a lot of ground to cover to ensure that the judicial process is more responsive to the people.

He went on to refer to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s observations that there are nearly 60,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court and nearly 44 lakh cases in the High Courts while opining that measures should be taken to curb the heavy case pendency. In this regard, based on his personal interaction with senior members of the legal fraternity, he made several suggestions to streamline and make justice delivery more effective.

One such suggestion made was the division of Supreme Court jurisdiction, with one side dealing with ordinary appeals through regional Benches and the other dealing with Constitutional matters. He said, 

A number of civil and criminal cases have been pending for over 25 years.  This makes me think that we need to not only expand the Supreme Court but also divide the work into Constitutional Division and a number of legal divisions or Courts of Appeal. As the Law Commission has suggested, I would like the Supreme Court to have two divisions’ one dealing with Constitutional matters and another with appeals. This suggestion merits serious consideration and decision by the Supreme Court as well as the government because it would enable the Supreme Court to devote more time to Constitutional issues and make it more accessible to common people.”

It may be noted that a PIL calling for the establishment of such regional Benches was filed in the Supreme Court back in 2014 by a Tamil Nadu-based lawyer, V Vasanthakumar. The plea called for the establishment of a National Court of Appeal with regional benches to deal with appellate cases, leaving the Supreme Court to deal only with matters of Constitutional significance.

The PIL was filed in furtherance of implementing the suggestions made by the Supreme Court in the case of Bihar Legal Support Society v. Chief Justice of India. When the matter was heard back in 2016, the Centre through the then Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi had opposed the proposal, citing practical challenges including the need for a Constitutional amendment to effect the proposal. 

However, Senior Advocate KK Venugopal, who was appointed an Amicus Curiae in the matter, had earlier batted for the proposal. In a 2012 interview with Bar & Bench, he opined that he was against setting up regional Benches of the Supreme Court itself. However, he had endorsed the idea of setting up Courts of Appeal in four regions of the country to deal with appellate matters, so as to reduce the burden on the Supreme Court. He said, 

“… it is necessary that Courts of Appeal be established in the four regions of the country manned by at least 15 judges each, who finally decide on appeals from the High Court judgments in all cases other than constitutional cases, cases of national importance which affect the whole country, disputes between States inter se or between States and the Centre, Presidential references and where substantial questions of law relating to interpretation of the Constitution arise. This alone should be within the exclusive purview of the Supreme Court and all other cases should be within the exclusive purview of the Courts of Appeal.

All this, of course, requires a Constitutional amendment. But if the Government of India and if the Chief Justice and the Judges of the Supreme Court continue to blindly function as if all is well with the justice delivery system, I am afraid, they are failing to adhere to the Constitution and its mandates. The courts and the government would have failed the country…”

Among other suggestions made by Venkaiah Naidu in his speech was the establishment of special judicial tribunals to decide cases within a reasonable time which may range from 6 months to a year. He also called for the time-bound disposal of cases pertaining to MPs and MLAs, including defection cases. 

Further, he also opined that the procedure for appointment of judges may have to be revisited, to put in place “a credible, transparent process instituted which will steer clear of avoidable controversies.” He further commented, 

While the Judiciary didn’t quite approve of the National Judicial Commission passed by the parliament and the system of collegium has not been without certain drawbacks, the appointment of Judges needs to be done through a process which inspires confidence and credibility.”

Notably, he also opined that court proceedings should be simplified and also conducted in regional languages. In this regard, he has said,

“The procedures must be simplified and the proceedings should be, by and large, conducted in the language understood by common people in a particular state.”

The full text of the speech delivered by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu may be read here

Image credit: PTI