Somnath Chatterjee revives demand for more apex court benches

April 10th, 2009 - 1:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Somnath Chatterjee By Rana Ajit
New Delhi, April 10 (IANS) Outgoing Lok Sabha Speaker Somanath Chatterjee has revived the long-pending, popular demand for more Supreme Court benches, saying that he is a “strong votary” of the benches being established at least in metropolitan cities.

“I must confess that I am a strong votary of setting up the circuit benches of our apex court at least in different metropolitan cities,” Chatterjee said while inaugurating a function here Thursday evening to mark the Bar Association of India’s golden jubilee celebrations.

“How many ordinary citizens of the country, who are oppressed and subject to various forms of discrimination and denial of rights, particularly women who are the victims of torture and exploitation, can have access to courts, especially the highest court of our country?” Chatterjee asked at the event attended by several legal luminaries, including Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.

“The geographical distance, the prohibitive cost of litigation, inordinately long time taken for disposal of matters, discourages or otherwise make it impossible for the litigants to approach the apex court,” he said.

“The situation should disturb the nation’s conscience and it is for the judiciary to find ways and means to make the temples of justice easily accessible to the common people,” he added.

Reviving the demand for more benches of the apex court and state high courts, Chatterjee pointed out that “such proposals are resisted by the some section within the bar and bench (judges and advocates), claiming it would affect integrity and unitary character of the court”.

But the speaker, a veteran lawyer himself, discarded these fears as “unfounded” and added that “it must be kept in mind that the courts are established not for judges or lawyers, but primarily for the citizens who seek solution to their problems”.

His demand received quick endorsement from several lawyers.

“I am a strong supporter for an apex court bench in at least one of the northeastern states or even in Kolkata,” said noted jurist Fali S. Nariman.

“If they do not want to have a full fledged bench outside Delhi, they must have at least some benches elsewhere in the country on a rotation basis for a few weeks if not for months,” suggested Nariman.

Former attorney general Soli J. Sorabjee too endorsed the demand for more apex court benches in the country, saying “it’s high time they review their archaic stand against more apex court benches”.

A parliamentary panel on the law and justice ministry has been regularly stressing on the need to set up at least three Supreme Court benches, one each at Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, for over the last two decades.

But the Supreme Court had been consistently rejecting the proposal that could enhance its accessibility by decentralisation.

A parliamentary panel headed by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee had recommended at least thrice between 1999 and 2000 that there should be more Supreme Court benches, but it was rejected by the apex court.

The recommendation was repeated in mid-2005 by the present parliamentary panel, headed by Rajya Sabha MP E.M.S. Natchiappan, who said at least one Supreme Court bench should be set up in Chennai “at least on experimental basis”.

Expressing its exasperation over the apex court’s aversion to have any bench in other parts of the country, the committee had observed that it was “not satisfied with the persistent opposition of the Supreme Court in establishing more benches in other parts of the country, more so when the court does not have any convincing reason or the justification thereof.

“The committee therefore endorses its earlier view that the establishment of benches of the Supreme Court in other parts of the country would be of immense help to the poor, who cannot afford to travel from their native places to Delhi,” it had said.

Factoring in the apex court’s consistent opposition to the establishment of its bench, the parliamentary panel had gone to the extent of asking the government to amend the constitution to set up more Supreme Court benches. Article 130 of the constitution provides that “the Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places as the chief justice of India may, with the approval of the president, decide from time to time”.

But more benches of the Supreme Court continue to be a far cry for India.

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