On Day 1, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi raises bar for urgent hearing in Supreme Court
“I am a strict man, I am what I am, I cannot change.” With that statement, India’s 46th Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi announced the new rules of engagement in the court over which he presides.
To be sure, the remark by the new Chief Justice of India (CJI) came at a function organised to felicitate him by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) after court hours on Wednesday.
By then, the import of the message had already been felt by lawyers.
The moment he sat in court, a few hours after taking the oath administered to him by President Ram Nath Kovind, CJI Gogoi refused to hear lawyers who were waiting in queue to mention cases for urgent hearing, a standard practice in Court no 1.
Raising the bar for hearing urgent cases that break the queue, the CJI told advocates: “We are in the process of coming up with new parameters and streamline the practise of mentioning cases. Till then only matters where someone is getting evicted or hanged or killed would be heard (urgently).”
Specifically, on Wednesday, CJI Gogoi declined to give an urgent hearing to cases pertaining to the illegal allotment of land in Haryana, an insolvency matter, and a matrimonial dispute.
He even refused to give an immediate hearing to advocate Prashant Bhushan who sought a stay on the deportation orders of seven Rohingya Muslims . “If they are deported, we can always get them back if it’s (deportation) wrong. Do not worry,” justice Gogoi said, adding that there was no urgency in the matter. Bhushan’s assertion that the seven would be sent to Myanmar on Wednesday night failed to move the bench.
The practice of letting lawyers mention urgent cases before the Chief Justice’s bench is designed to provide an opportunity to people to fast-track the first hearing of critical cases.
Still, long-time court observers say that over a period of time, many not-so-urgent cases have also been flagged before the bench, taking away the court’s precious time.
Former CJI Dipak Misra also attempted to streamline the practice earlier this year. In January, he directed that only junior lawyers would be allowed to mention cases before his bench. He was addressing a complaint from younger lawyers that they didn’t get a chance to flag their cases because senior lawyers appeared to get priority.
Justice Misra later asked lawyers to first mention matters for urgent hearing before the registrar and approach the Chief Justice’s court only if they were aggrieved by the registrar’s order.
In the evening function, justice Gogoi clarified his morning remark on urgent cases. “Let me tell you, me and my colleagues are trying to prepare a system which will function better. We are trying to reduce the time between filing and listing of cases. We are trying to introduce a system where cases don’t get dropped and if we succeed, perhaps a large section of mentioning will go away altogether, It’s not the Chief Justice who will drop mentioning but mentioning will die out automatically,” he said.
Justice Gogoi offered the clarification after SCBA president Vikas Singh urged him to be more lenient towards the Bar, especially junior lawyers.
“I am a strict man, I am what I am, I cannot change,” the CJI replied, although he followed this up with his explanation.