The Supreme Court on Friday admitted a Chennai lawyer’s petition for setting up a National Court of Appeal with regional benches to act as the final courts of justice in criminal and civil cases.
In doing so, the court has at one stroke questioned the past views of its own Chief Justices of India about bifurcation of judicial powers and a government order in 2014 that such a court of appeal is constitutionally imper missible.
The National Court Appeal with regional benches in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata is meant to act as final courts of justice in dealing with appeals from the decisions of the High Courts and tribunals within their region in civil, criminal, labour and revenue matters.
In such a scenario, a much-relieved Supreme Court of India situated in Delhi would only hear matters of Constitutional law and Public law.
The move to admit this wild-card petition filed by advocate V. Vasanthakumar comes at a time when the higher judiciary stares at over 400 vacant judicial posts in High Courts.
A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, issued notice to the Centre, asked Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi to assist the court and appointed senior advocates K.K. Venugopal and Salman Khurshid as amicus curiae .
The court posted the case for hearing on March 15.
Law Ministry had cited three grounds
The Supreme Court entertained the petition of V. Vasanthakumar, a Chennai lawyer, despite a government order, dated December 3, 2014, rejecting his proposal for a National Court of Appeal with regional Benches.
The lawyer had approached the Union Ministry for Law and Justice with his proposal after the Supreme Court asked the government to hear him out through a judicial order on October 10, 2014.
In its order, the Ministry cited three grounds for rejecting the idea — The Supreme Court always sits in Delhi as per the Constitution; the Chief Justices of India in the past have “consistently opposed” the idea of a National Court of Appeal or regional Benches to the Supreme Court; and the Attorney-General said a National Court of Appeal would “completely change the constitution of the Supreme Court.”
In his petition , Mr. Vasanthakumar argues that he has been misunderstood and the government order is “illegal.” For one, he said, the request was not for regional Benches of the Supreme Court but for a separate judicial body: the National Court of Appeals.
Secondly, a Constitution Bench of the apex court in 1986 had itself recommended establishment of National Court of Appeal with regional Benches at Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata to ease the burden of the Supreme Court and avoid hardship to litigants who have to come all the way to Delhi to fight their cases.
“The Supreme Court was created as an apex court for the purpose of laying down the law for the entire country and was never intended to be a regular court of appeal against orders made by the High Court or the session’s court or the magistrates,” the petition said.
It said the difficulty to access the apex court for people living in remote and backward corners of the country, the high costs of engaging senior advocates in the Supreme Court has created a stark situation of inequality in accessing justice.