On May 9, the Supreme Court notified its annual summer holiday from May 13, and listed the judges who will occupy the Vacation Benches for hearing urgent matters during this period.
Dividing the vacation into periods and listing a number of Division Benches, the notification said: “Under Rule 6 of Order II of The Supreme Court rules, 2013, Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India has nominated the following Division Benches for hearing of urgent miscellaneous matters and regular hearing matters during the summer vacation for the period (First Part) from May 13, 2019 to May 20, 2019, May 21,2019 to May 24, 2019, May 25, 2019 to May 28, 2019 and for the period (Second Part) from May 29, 2019 to May 30, 2019 , May 31, 2019 to June 2, 2019, June 3, 2019 to June 5, 2019, June 6, 2019 to June 13, 2019…”
A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court is a special bench constituted by the Chief Justice of India. The court takes two long vacations each year, the summer and winter breaks, but is technically not fully closed during these periods.
Litigants can still approach the Supreme Court and, if the court decides that the plea is an “urgent matter”, the Vacation Bench hears the case on its merits. While there is no specific definition as to what is an “urgent matter”, during vacations the court generally admits writs related to habeas corpus, certiorari, prohibition and quo warranto matters for enforcement of any fundamental right.
Rule 6, which is mentioned in the notification, states: “The Chief Justice may appoint one or more Judges to hear during summer vacation or winter holidays all matters of an urgent nature which under these rules may be heard by a Judge sitting singly, and, whenever necessary, he may likewise appoint a Division Court for the hearing of urgent cases during the vacation which require to be heard by a Bench of Judges.”
The High Courts and trial courts too have Vacation Benches to hear urgent matters under their jurisdiction.
Vacation Benches become significant in important political cases. During the last summer vacation, when the Karnataka Assembly results were announced, the decision to invite the BJP by Karnataka Governor was challenged by the Congress before the Vacation Bench. The urgent matter was heard on May 18, 2018 and the court passed an interim order to conduct a floor the very next day. The interim order played a key role in setting off events relating to government formation.
CJI Ranjan Gogoi himself will be heading the Vacation Bench from May 25 to May 30. This will be in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of the Lok Sabha election results, scheduled on May 23.