CJI Ramana backs new hierarchy in judiciary
The central government should consider restructuring the judiciary by establishing courts of appeal to hear cases against high court orders, while leaving the Supreme Court to examine only issues of constitutional importance, Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said on Saturday.
This is the first time a chief justice has advocated altering the hierarchy of the courts in India, which will require a constitutional amendment.
Speaking at the valedictory ceremony of Constitution Day celebrations in the national capital, chief justice Ramana referred to the suggestion mooted by attorney general KK Venugopal a day ago in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chief justice and law minister Kiran Rijiju during his address at a public event.
The Supreme Court of India’s current role should be revamped, making it a purely constitutional court to examine only cases involving constitutional interpretation, Venugopal had said. Four regional courts of appeals should be set up to hear cases arising out high court orders, he said, lamenting that the Supreme Court cannot today call itself a constitutional court when it has to deal with even rent control and matrimonial disputes.
“The attorney general’s suggestions yesterday were also enlightening. While highlighting the issue of judicial pendency, he proposed the restructuring of the judicial system and altering the hierarchy of the courts,” the chief justice said on Saturday. “This is something that merits consideration by the government.”
Justice Ramana regretted lack of study in the past 75 years to review the existing system of courts. “Since independence, I do not think there has been a serious study to consider what exactly should be the structural hierarchy of judiciary in India,” he said.
“It is good that a chief justice is thinking about the issue,” Venugopal told HT. “I have been advocating this point since 2010, highlighting how the Supreme Court has drowned itself in cases that should may have nothing to do with settling points of law or constitutional issues.”
It is possible to establish four regional courts of appeals with 15 judges each through a constitutional amendment, Venugopal said. “This will bring down the pendency in the Supreme Court while ensuring speedy disposal of cases of the litigants aggrieved of the high court orders by the courts of appeals,” the government’s chief legal advisor said. “At the same time, the Supreme Court could then sit in larger benches to decide issues of constitutional importance.”
Article 124 of the Constitution prescribes the establishment of the Supreme Court of India with the number of judges specified by Parliament. The Supreme Court currently has a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. Similarly, there are provisions in the Constitution mandating that appeals arising out of high courts shall be examined by the Supreme Court. Article 214 lays down that every state would have a high court.
Another issue flagged by the chief justice in his address pertained to absence of legislative impact study by the Union government before a new law is brought into force. “Another issue is that the legislature does not conduct studies or assess the impact of the laws that it passes. This sometimes leads to big issues,” he said. “The introduction of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act (criminal prosecution in cheque bounce cases) is an example of this. Now, the already burdened magistrates are further burdened by thousands of these cases.”
The judge added that rebranding the existing courts as commercial courts, without creating a special infrastructure, will not have any impact on the pendency.
Recently, a Supreme Court bench, led by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, had underscored the spate of issues emanating due to absence of a legislative impact study before the new consumer protection law was notified in July 2020. Justice Kaul prodded the government into conducting a study even as the law was being enforced. This study threw up several problems with the new law. It recommended that the monetary jurisdiction of district and state consumer commissions should be reviewed.
Justice Ramana also said that if people are unaware about their rights and entitlements, they cannot claim benefit from them. “People also need to know the scope and limitations of the roles ascribed to the different organs of the State. We need to clear the prevailing misconceptions. For example, many people in this country believe that it is the courts which make the laws,” he added.
“We must remember that whatever criticism or obstacle that we may encounter, our mission to render justice cannot stop,” he said. “We have to march on in pursuing our duty to strengthen the judiciary and protect the rights of the citizenry.”