Incoming CJI Lalit starts with big push for reform

Updated on Aug 26, 2022 11:44 PM IST

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.

New Delhi, Aug26 (ANI): CJI designate Justice UU Lalit speaks during the Farewell ceremony of Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)
New Delhi, Aug26 (ANI): CJI designate Justice UU Lalit speaks during the Farewell ceremony of Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)
By, New Delhi

Poised to lead the Supreme Court from Saturday, justice Uday Umesh Lalit has started off on a high note. From listing constitutional bench cases after a long hiatus to bringing around 550 matters marked as “sensitive” back to circulation before courts, the incoming CJI looks determined to speed up the wheels of justice in the Supreme Court.

According to people aware of the matter, justice Lalit is also set to call a “full court” — a first in last five years, soon after he takes over as the Chief Justice of India on August 27, for a dialogue with the fellow judges on issues affecting the justice delivery mechanism at the top court and the way forward.

The first salvo came on Wednesday evening with the publication of a list of 25 Constitution bench cases that will start getting listed from August 29, which happens to be the first day of justice Lalit presiding as the CJI. People cited above confirmed to HT that the court registry issued the list of cases under instructions from CJI-designate Lalit.

While there was no Constitution bench hearing during the entire 16-month tenure of his predecessor, justice NV Ramana, justice Lalit begins his stint as the CJI with ensuring that the Supreme Court prioritises 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.

The list of 25 five-judge bench cases includes some important policy matters such as 2016 demonetisation and the 2019 amendment to bring in a maximum of 10% for the economically weaker sections (EWS). Some cases dealing with minorities are also to occupy the court in coming months with the Constitution benches slated to take up petitions on constitutional validity of polygamy, nikah halala, and other related Muslim marriage practices, and the grant of minority status to Sikhs in Punjab.

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.

Speaking at an event to bid adieu to CJI NV Ramana, who demitted office on Friday, justice Lalit unfolded his plans, saying that he will focus on three areas during his tenure at the helm — transparency in listing of cases, institutionalising mentioning of urgent matters, and setting up Constitution benches. He added that the endeavour will be to have one Constitution bench functioning throughout the year.

In an interview with HT earlier this month, justice Lalit acknowledged that Constitution bench cases had 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.

Meanwhile, apart from the five-judge bench cases, scores of three-judge bench cases have also been notified for listing from August 29. Those in the know of development said that justice Lalit has already reached out to his colleagues in the court with a proposal that only three-judge benches will sit between Tuesday and Thursday every week to clear the disposal of cases, particularly death sentence cases that require the bench to have the strength of at least three judges. Monday and Friday will be for two-judge benches to hear fresh and miscellaneous cases.

Thrown 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. A list of more than 100 such cases were also released on Wednesday evening on the Supreme Court website. The batch of appeals against the hijab ban in Karnataka’s educational institutions is one such case that did not come up for hearing even once although the petitions were filed in March.

Besides exuding his will and seriousness about clearing up the massive backlog of cases of seminal importance, justice Lalit has also sought to strike a right chord with his brethren by calling a “full court” so that all the judges could sit together and deliberate on improving the output of the Supreme Court.

Although his tenure is a brief one of just over two months, justice Lalit has commenced his stint in a manner that suggests he means business.

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