February 17, 2015 3:33:25 am
Of late, Justice Ranjan Gogoi has been starting court proceedings with a question that leaves many lawyers in the Supreme Court befuddled: “Does this case fall in the 93 per cent or in the remaining 7 per cent?”
While most lawyers don’t know how to respond, a few lucky ones get help from their colleagues who have been asked the same question by Justice Gogoi in the past.
During one such proceeding, senior advocate Kapil Sibal was left flummoxed when Justice Gogoi asked him, “Where does your case lie, Mr Sibal? We think it falls in the 93 per cent. You should withdraw it and go to the high court first.” Sensing Sibal’s confusion, senior advocate Shekhar Nephrade said he would help his friend understand what the judge was talking about.
Behind Justice Gogoi’s question is a research by a group of lawyers, who analysed 884 judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in 2014. As per the findings, only 7 per cent of these judgments involved substantial issues of laws and the Constitution, while the remaining 93 per cent of the cases related to appeals from miscellaneous orders of the high courts.
Supreme Court advocate K V Dhananjay and about one dozen lawyers in Delhi and Bangalore analysed the judgements, uploaded on the official website of the Supreme Court between January 1 and December 31, 2014. The purpose was to find out how many of these judgments involved interpretation of the Constitution or involved substantial challenge to any statute, regulation, law or executive action for being inconsistent or repugnant to a constitutional provision.
“The findings were mind-boggling since a meagre 64 cases, or 7 per cent of the total cases, involved any substantive constitutional issues. All other cases adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court were routine appeals from high courts,” Dhananjay told The Indian Express.
Explaining that the cases were segregated on the basis of whether they involved an inherent constitutional controversy or not, he said that the team tried its best to keep an objective view of the legal issues while examining whether a matter engaged the top court’s attention and time in deciding a major point of law or a simple question of fact.
Out of the 64 judgements dealing with significant legal and constitutional issues, exactly half were written by a two-judge bench, 18 were penned by a three-judge bench, and 14 were delivered by a five-judge Constitution bench. The analysis indicates that there has been a steady decline in the number of matters involving a substantial question of law decided by constitution benches comprising five or more judges.
According to the research, Justice A K Sikri was the sitting judge with the highest number of such judgments — seven. Former Chief Justices P Sathasivam and R M Lodha had each written nine judgments during 2014 before their retirements. A relatively young member of the bench who assumed the judicial office only in July last year, Justice Rohinton Nariman, wrote three such judgments in 2014.
Buoyed by the response the research has received from Justice Gogoi, Dhananjay said that he was planning to officially share this report with all Supreme Court judges who are the most burdened of any class of judges anywhere in the world. “They are increasingly carrying a tremendous burden with them and we must all be collectively grateful to them for their contribution to the cause of justice,” he added.
Recently, Justice T S Thakur, the most senior Supreme Court judge, said at a function that he had a job satisfaction of only 5 per cent. “If you ask me what is your job satisfaction after five years in SC, I will have to say only 5 per cent. I am unhappy 95 per cent of the time. Why? Because many cases reach the court, like Rs 4,000 cheque bounce cases and anticipatory bail matters, that shouldn’t reach this court. So many important matters that need attention remain unattended. Where do we have the time?” he said.
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