2024 will have more seven-judge Benches hearing crucial matters in Supreme Court

The issues include passage of laws as Money Bills; sub-classification of SCs and STs; interplay between breach of privilege of legislatures and citizens’ fundamental rights

December 22, 2023 10:04 pm | Updated December 23, 2023 12:14 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Lawyers and people walk in front of the Supreme Court. File

Lawyers and people walk in front of the Supreme Court. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The new year will have a slew of seven-judge Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court hearing a series of crucial issues.

These include the passage of laws as Money Bills; sub-classification of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; the interplay between breach of privilege of legislatures and citizens’ fundamental rights; whether Speakers can hear disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule when notices for their removal were pending; the criteria for an educational institution to be tagged as minority-run; and the validity of State laws to impose surcharge on sales tax.

Of the six cases, four would be heard by a seven-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud in January 2024.

The sales tax and minority educational institution cases would be listed before this Bench on January 9. The sub-classification and Money Bills’ issues would be listed on January 17 and January 30, respectively, before the seven-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice.

The case on the Speaker’s authority to adjudicate disqualification petitions and the one on the interplay between breach of privilege and fundamental rights would be heard in March.

Blanket powers to ED

The Money Bill reference concerns amendments, including ones made from 2015 in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) through Money Bills, giving the Enforcement Directorate almost blanket powers of arrest, raids, etc. Though the court had upheld the legality of the PMLA amendments, it had left the question whether the amendments could have been passed as Money Bills to the seven-judge Bench.

The cardinal issue is whether such amendments could be passed as a Money Bill, by circumventing the Rajya Sabha, in violation of Article 110 of the Constitution.

The sub-classification case dates back to 2020, when a five-judge Bench led by Justice (retired) Arun Mishra held that States could sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Central List to provide preferential treatment to the “weakest out of the weak”.

However, the view taken by this Bench was contrary to a 2004 judgment by another five-judge Bench in the E.V. Chinnaiah case. This judgment had held that allowing States to unilaterally “make a class within a class of members of the Scheduled Castes” would amount to tinkering with the Presidential list.

Faced with contrary views by coordinate Benches, the question was referred to a seven-judge Bench.

The case titled N. Ravi versus Speaker, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly dates back to November 2003. The question involved is whether the legislature’s privilege power under Article 194 can override fundamental rights.

The Speaker’s authority to hear disqualification petitions against MLAs came up during the Shiv Sena rift case. The Uddhav Thackeray faction had questioned the reasoning of a five-judge Bench in the Nabam Rebia verdict of 2016. The Rebia judgment had ruled against a Speaker with a shadow of doubt over his own office from hearing disqualification petitions.

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