Getting into work mode soon after swearing in, new Chief Justice of India U U Lalit called a full court meeting in the Supreme Court Saturday afternoon to discuss ways to deal with backlog of cases and decide on the listing of petitions.
Sources said the meeting “mulled over various options” and finally decided to set up “one or two” constitution benches and “six three-judge benches” on priority basis. “The focus will be on resolving the three-judge bench matters as there are many references to them pending,” they added.
“The constitution benches will initially deal with case management and issue directions for getting the records, the paper book, of the case ready to prepare for the hearing,” sources said.
The three-judge benches will sit in the first half of the day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
On the listing of cases, it was decided that Mondays will be dedicated to fresh matters, while those miscellaneous matters in which notice has already been issued will be taken up post-lunch on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Fridays, too, will be devoted to after-notice miscellaneous matters.
In an interview to The Indian Express on August 14, CJI Lalit (he was CJI-designate then) spoke about the need to ensure that crucial cases are listed on priority. Asked about the delay in cases, he said: “You touched upon that some matters don’t get listed. That is something which we will have to find a solution to…To have Constitution benches sit all year (is one kind of institutional response),” he had said.
Subsequently, in what is widely seen as a decision carrying the new CJI’s imprint, the SC on August 24 notified that 25 pending matters will be listed before the constitution benches starting August 29.
“Take notice that the following five judges bench matters shall be listed before the concerned courts from Monday, the 29th August, 2022 for directions including filing of common compilation, filing of short written submissions and tentative indication with regard to time taken by learned counsel. The matters shall thereafter be listed as per directions of the court,” the SC notification said.
The constitution bench matters listed for hearing before include challenges to demonetisation, reservations to the economically weaker sections, petitions challenging the exercise of updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, challenge to the establishment of the Central Bureau of Investigation and plea challenging the constitutional validity of religious practices of Nikah Halala and polygamy.
Speaking at the farewell organised for former Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, Justice Lalit reiterated his priorities and said he will strive to make the process of listing cases as simple as transparent as possible, make mentioning – where lawyers bring urgent matters to the notice of the court – easier, and strive to ensure that there is at least one constitution bench functioning throughout the year.
The full court meeting on Saturday is learnt to have worked on the nitty gritty of the plan. The meeting, which started at 2 pm, reportedly lasted for almost three hours. Sources said it was a “free-flowing dialogue between colleagues” where the judges conveyed their suggestions.