April 3, 2017 12:26:01 am
The Supreme Court’s decision to have a majority of its judges — 15 out of 28 — forego their summer “vacation” is a welcome step, in substance and as example. Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said on Thursday that there would be a thorough hearing of three matters by constitution benches, each of which, if not heard now, would “not be decided for years together”. Also last week, the Supreme Court allowed its proceedings to be recorded on camera, albeit without sound. Given the gargantuan problem of pendency facing the judiciary and the questions raised about its opacity, the urgency and transparency displayed by the apex court is a clear signal that even as it shapes institutional reform in other branches of government, it is also amenable to, and eager for, internal reform.
The decision to work during its holidays on cases involving constitutional questions comes on the heels of an “action plan” framed by the Supreme Court last month for cases more ordinary. In April 2016, there were 2.18 crore cases pending across India’s courts. The apex court asked high courts to issue directions to lower courts that bail applications should be disposed of within a week and sessions trials where the accused are in custody be concluded within two years. These efforts are meant to clear the backlog of cases more than five years old, which numbered over 43 lakh at the end of 2015, by the end of this year. The Supreme Court’s own contribution to pendency was at about 60,000 cases. By following up its order to subordinate courts with a visible display of urgency, the SC has set an example that must be followed by the rest of the judiciary.
The three constitutional matters coming up before the court — the validity of triple talaq and polygamy under Muslim Personal Law and the right to privacy with respect to social media — are of deep importance, with large political and social implications. The highest court in the land is the only one with the legal and moral authority to deal with them. In showing urgency and leading by example, the court has taken an important step in the right direction.
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