THE SUPREME COURT (NUMBER OF JUDGES) AMENDMENT ACT, 2019

Author: Yashvee Singhal, 2nd Year, BBA LL.B(H), Amity Law School, Amity University Rajasthan.
The article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us.

INTRODUCTION

The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019 was represented in Lok Sabha on 5th August 2019 by the Minister of Law and Justice, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad. The said bill was passed without discussion in the Lok Sabha on 5th August 2019 and in Rajya Sabha on 7th August 2019. President Ram Nath Kovind gave his consent to amend the bill. The Bill amends the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act 1956. The bill aims to increase the number of judges in order to expedite the process of deciding the pending cases. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019 seeks to increase the number of the judges in Supreme Court from thirty to thirty-three excluding the Chief Justice of India[1]; thereby the total number of Judges in the Supreme Court to be thirty-four (34).

OBJECTIVES AND NEED OF THE BILL

The main object of Bill is to solve the long-lasting demand of the Judges required in the Supreme Court to solve the pending cases at a speedy track and even also solve the problem related to lack of a number of judges required to form a bench at the same time under various pending cases. The bill itself stated the reason for the need to bring amendment i.e., “The pendency of cases in the Supreme Court of India has constantly been on the rise due to comparatively higher rate of the institution of cases. As on the 1st day of June 2019, there were 58669 cases pending in the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of India has intimated that inadequate strength of judges is one of the prime reasons for the backlog of cases in the Supreme Court. It is not possible for the Chief Justice of India to constitute five Judges Bench on a regular basis to hear cases involving substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution as it would result in constitution of less number of Division Benches which would lead to delay in hearing of other civil and criminal matters”[2]. The number of Chief Justices and Judges of the High Courts has increased from 906 to 1,079[3] and also new High Courts have been established across the country in the previous year, leading to the increase in the number of pending cases being disposed of by the High Court. Thus, this has resulted in a larger number of the appeals filed in the Supreme Court, thereby increasing the pressure on the court itself. That’s why the bill was proposed to amend the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act 1956 by increasing the number of Judges by 10% i.e. presently from thirty to thirty-three excluding the Chief Justice of India.

SALIENT FEATURES[1]

Increase Number of Judges

The Bill fixes the maximum number of judges in the Supreme Court from thirty to thirty-three excluding Chief Justice of India in the present scenario. [2] By this, now the strength of the Judges is increased in the court thereby, now more number of the benches can be formed at a time to deal with the issues related to constitutional interpretation, civil and criminal matters as earlier there was more burden on one judge, as he was involved in various hearings in the lawsuit.

Act as a Remedy to Solve Pending Cases

The Bill also comes as a remedy to solve the huge number of pending cases in the Supreme Court.[3] As stated in Statement of Object and Reasons till 1st day of June 2019, there were 58669 cases pending in the Supreme Court[4]. The reason for the same was that due to less availability of the judges in the Supreme Court it was not possible for the Chief Justice of India to form a constitutional bench for the interpretation of the statutes or law on a regular basis as the same would lead in the constitution of a smaller number of the divisional bench, thus resulting in a delay in expediting the matters related to the civil and criminal lawsuit. However, with the amendment of 2019 now the same is possible, hence helping to dispose of the case as early as possible.

Financial Memorandum of the Bill

The bill also mentioned that by creating additional three posts the expenditure on the account of the pay and allowances on the three judges will also increase which follows:-the total expenditure on creation of additional three posts of Judges in the Supreme Court will be of Rs. 6,81,54,528/- as the recurring expenditure amounting to Rs. 5,37,54,528/- per annum would consist of the salary of three Judges and their staff, housing, water, electricity, medical, conveyance, Leave Travel Concession and expenditure of Rs. 60,00,000/- in connection with the deployment of security and non-recurring expenditure of Rs. 84,00,000/- towards car and furnishing of the official residence.[5] Hence, not going to involve any other recurring and non-recurring expenditure.

BACKGROUND

The strength of the judges of the Supreme Court is fixed under Article 124 (1) of the Constitution of India.[6] However, by the law enacted Parliament as per Article 124 (2) of Constitution of India[7] the number of the judges can be increased. With the passage of time, various amendments in the act were passed to increase the number of judges which are as follows:-

  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956: The maximum number of judges can be seven excluding the Chief Justice of India as provided under Article 124 (1)[8] but due to increase in the number of cases in the Supreme Court and also for a necessary requirement to form constitutional bench which requires five judges at least[9] and also the other bench consisting of at least three judges, the Parliament of India passed the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 on 16th September 1956 which increased the number of judges to ten excluding the Chief Justice of India.
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960: The Parliament of India on the 10th March 1960 passed The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960 which was amended by act 17 of 1960. This amendment leads to an increase in the number of judges in the Supreme Court from ten to thirteen excluding the Chief Justice of India. This amendment came as in the last three years there was a need to increase the strength of judges to dispose of pending cases as cases increased. Secondly, the increased numbers of cases do not keep pace with the institutions, leading it to be necessary to have more than one bench comprising three-Judges as the cases of appeal generally came from High court divisional bench so as to expedite the disposal of the pending cases.
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1977: The Parliament of India on the 28h November 1977 passed The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1977 which was amended by act 48 of 1977. The maximum number of judges in the Supreme court were seven excluding Chief Justice of India which was increased to total eleven in 1956 and to fourteen in 1960 including the Chief Justice of India. With the passage of the time, the number of the cases in arrear increased in the Supreme Court leading to the pass of this amendment which maximizes the number of judges to be seventeen excluding the Chief Justice of India in the Supreme Court. However in 1979, the restriction was imposed by the cabinet to 15 Judges excluding the Chief Justice of India, but it was later withdrawn at the request by the Chief Justice of India.
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1986: The Parliament of India in the year 1986 passed The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1986 which was amended by act 22 of 1986. The maximum numbers of judges in the Supreme Court were increased to twenty-five excluding Chief Justice of India.
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2008: The Parliament of India on the 4th August 2008 passed the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2008. This amendment maximises the number of judges in the Supreme court to thirty excluding Chief Justice of India As on the 31st day of March 2007, 41,581 cases was pending in the Supreme Court.[10] And as a result, the Judges in the Supreme Court were over-burdened and could not dispose of the cases at a fast speed and even it was also not been possible for the Chief Justice of India to constitute a five Judge Bench on a regular basis to hear cases involving the interpretation of constitutional law as doing that would result in constitution of less number of Division Benches which in turn will result in a delay in hearing of other civil and criminal matters.[11]

ANALYSIS OF THE BILL

The bill by increasing the number of judges is a positive step towards the object of ensuring justice to all innocent one. This will help to expedite the cases as early as possible as. The burden of the work will be reduced on an individual judge. Now it would be possible to form a constitutional bench which comprises of at least five judges and at the same time, more number of Judges available to form a bench for speedy disposal of the matters related to a criminal or civil lawsuit. However, by just increasing the judges that too by a small amount i.e. three is not sufficient. What our country requires is an improvement in the process of seeking justice, which is not addressed by this bill. This bill neither looks into the matter of cases coming. Generally, cases under the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court are coming before the honourable court rather than the matters under the Original Jurisdiction, the bill ignored this aspect of our judicial system.

CONCLUSION

In the end, I would like to conclude that though the bill increases the strength of the judges this alone is not just sufficient. What we require in today’s scenarios is the way the judiciary works. The judiciary system needs to look into the account of the matters which are coming up before the court like various cases related to routine bail matters ended up coming before the Supreme Court. The court needs to take measures for saving it’s time for example by putting a reasonable restriction on the duration of the oral arguments. The judicial officers need to change their attitude towards their work. They need to understand that they have been shouldered with the responsibility of ensuring justice in society. If this had been thinking then, “Justice delayed is justice denied” wouldn’t be prevailing in our society.


REFERENCE:

[1]Section 2, Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019, Bill No. 191 0f 2019, Acts of Parliament, 2019 (India).

[2] Statement of Objects and Reasons, Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019, Bill No. 191 0f 2019, Acts of Parliament, 2019 (India).

[3] supra 3.

[4] supra 3.

[5] Financial Memorandum, Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019, Bill No. 191 0f 2019, Acts of Parliament, 2019 (India).

[6] INDIA CONST. art. 124, cl. 1.

[7] INDIA CONST. art. 124, cl. 2.

[8] ibid 6.

[9] INDIA CONST. art. 145, cl. 3.

[10]Statement of Objects and Reasons, Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2008, Bill No. 41 0f 2008, Acts of Parliament, 2008 (India).

[11] Supra 10


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