592 new cases heard on CJI’s first day in charge

By, New Delhi
Aug 30, 2022 05:00 AM IST

The first working day of the apex court under his leadership witnessed a promising start to that vision.

The first day of new Chief Justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit in the Supreme Court saw a record 592 fresh cases being heard amid anticipation that the coming days will witness the resurrection of various high-profile and sensitive cases that have been lying in the judicial closet for a few years.

 (Rashtrapati Bhavan)
(Rashtrapati Bhavan)

Addressing some lawyers present in the first court of the country, CJI Lalit on Monday morning said he would put in place by Thursday a new and transparent system of listing urgent cases, adding that the focus of the top court under his leadership will be clearing pendency and hearing the maximum possible number of cases every day.

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On Friday last week, speaking at an event to bid adieu to former CJI NV Ramana, justice Lalit laid bare his plans, saying that he will focus on three areas during his 74-day tenure at the helm — transparency in listing of cases, institutionalising mentioning of urgent matters, and setting up Constitution benches.

The first working day of the apex court under his leadership witnessed a promising start to that vision.

Fifteen two-judge benches in the Supreme Court heard at least 60 cases each — almost double the earlier average. Of the 900-odd cases listed on Monday, 592 cases were being heard for the first time after they were filed at different times in the last one year. Many of these new matters were public interest litigations (PILs) touching issues ranging from the Rafale deal to Karnataka’s hijab ban row, and awaited preliminary hearings despite repeated requests.

One of the principal criticisms of former CJI Ramana’s tenure pertained to non-listing of cases, and lack of clarity on how the court registry selected the kind of cases that were listed out of turn. On his last day in office last week, justice Ramana expressed regret at not being able to give due attention to the listing of cases.

On Monday, CJI Lalit began by assuring the lawyers present in his court that all fresh cases will find a place in the advance cause lists and will be listed as soon as possible. He added that a new mechanism, which will be “transparent”, shall streamline the process of mentioning cases by lawyers, who either want urgent hearings or retention of dates already assigned to their cases.

CJI Lalit further said that regular hearing of cases that require substantial hearings will be taken up as a priority between Tuesday and Thursday every week, while new and miscellaneous cases will be heard on these days only in the post-lunch session.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta and senior counsel Dushyant Dave, on their part, welcomed the new CJI, assuring the support of the bar in making his endeavours successful.

Meanwhile, the list of cases to be heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, as released on the court website, threw up an interesting day of business with two Constitution benches and other three-judge benches set to take up some key cases relating to 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots, the contempt plea over demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, a PIL by senior lawyer and former BJP leader Ram Jethmalani (now deceased) for disclosing names of Indians who have stashed black money in foreign bank accounts, and the PILs seeking implementation of the justice Srikrishna Commission report on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots.

The Constitution benches on Tuesday will be headed by CJI Lalit and justice Indira Banerjee respectively. These five-judge benches will take up cases that include challenges to the validity of Andhra Pradesh’s legislation declaring all members of the Muslim community in the state as part of the “backward classes”, granting of minority status to Sikh students in Punjab, and reservation to the economically weaker section (EWS), among others.

Another interesting case before the Constitution bench seeks an authoritative judgment on whether the number of judges giving an opinion should matter or the strength of the bench should hold the field. For example, when five judges decide an issue unanimously, can this judgment be overruled by a 4-3 majority just because the strength of the latter bench is of seven judges?

While there was no Constitution bench hearing during the entire 16-month tenure of his predecessor justice Ramana, CJI Lalit has started his stint with a stress on prioritising cases that will have far-reaching implications in settling the law, and consequently a deluge of cases awaiting disposal at the top court and in high courts.

As on August 1, a total of 492 Constitution bench matters, involving 53 main cases involving key questions of law and constitutional interpretations, remained pending in the top court.

In an interview with HT earlier this month, justice Lalit acknowledged that Constitution bench cases have taken a back seat in the recent past, and that the top court must untangle the complex questions of law, which by virtue of being unresolved, spark off a spate of litigation at every level and choke the judicial system.

Put in the cold storage after being marked as “sensitive” by the court registry, around 550 new cases have also been directed to be listed before the first six benches of the top court on Monday and Friday, people aware of the matter added.

Senior advocate and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Vikas Singh, commended the new CJI over the steps taken to list the matters. “We are happy to note that more than 900 matters have been listed and we are hopeful that very soon, the backlog of matters required to be listed are cleared soon,” Singh wrote in a letter to justice Lalit.

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