IN A FIRST, at least 15 judges of the Supreme Court, comprising more than half its strength today, will be sitting through prolonged hearings in the forthcoming summer vacation to deal with three cases of Constitutional importance, including the validity of triple talaq and polygamy under Muslim personal laws. Chief Justice of India J S Khehar disclosed Thursday that he has approved three separate Constitution Benches during the vacation to examine issues, which if not heard now, “will not be decided for years together.”
There has been a practice of having a two-judge bench during the vacation to hear some cases but this would be the first time when 15 out of 28 judges in the apex court would be spending a substantial part of their vacation hearing arguments, making notes and preparing judgments. Apart from triple talaq and polygamy, the CJI said that these five-judge Benches will hear matters related to the right to privacy for WhatsApp and Facebook users in India and the issue of providing Indian citizenship to children of illegal migrants born in this country.
“These are very, very important matters. If we don’t do it like this (by hearing them in separate Constitution Benches), they will not be decided for years and years together. Then you (lawyers) don’t blame us that it did not happen…or that there are so much arrears,” remarked Justice Khehar.
A bench comprising the CJI and Justice D Y Chandrachud was fixing a date of hearing for a batch of matters relating to validity of triple talaq and polygamy when the fact of three separate larger benches came up.
Justice Khehar said that it has been decided that a Constitution Bench should hear the batch of cases of triple talaq, starting May 11 — the top court goes on leave for the summer vacation from this date. He added that the issues could be framed over May 11-12 hearing, and then the arguments could commence the next week.
The CJI further revealed that two separate Constitution Benches will also sit in the vacation to hear the cases pertaining to right to privacy for uses of social media and online chat groups and on the citizenship row.
This disclosure however did not go down well with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and some senior lawyers, including Kapil Sibal and Raju Ramachandran. The lawyers pointed out that they were supposed to appear in all the three cases and therefore, it would not be feasible to have all the three Constitution Bench matters in the vacation.
Rohatgi rued: “These are all very important matters as far as I am concerned and I am appearing in all three. How will I attend all of them at the same time? Working in the vacation has been a bilateral issue and the tradition of this court has been to fix the matters after taking into account the convenience of the lawyers. It cannot be a compulsion.”
To this, the CJI replied that there was no compulsion on any lawyer and that he could make a choice regarding the case he deems most important. “Besides, all of you won’t be arguing in all the cases at the same time. You can take your turns. These won’t be decided for years if we don’t it now,” he retorted.
On his part, Sibal reminded Justice Khehar that he had been asked by the CJI to assist the court in the WhatsApp matter relating to the right to privacy. “But three parallel benches during the vacation will be a lot of burden. I can assist in one but not in all. If the lordship so desires, I will withdraw my consent from the WhatsApp matter if everything is to taken up simultaneously by different benches,” contended the senior lawyer.
“We exempt you from everything,” responded the CJI, as he stood firm that there could be no assurance that all the three matters will not be heard simultaneously.