Indian Government Advances Proposal for Regional Benches in the Supreme Court

In a significant move, India's government approves the establishment of regional Supreme Court benches, addressing long-standing calls for judicial reform.

In a landmark development, the Indian government has taken a decisive step towards addressing long-standing calls for the establishment of regional benches within the Supreme Court. This move, endorsed by a parliamentary committee and reported by the Press Trust of India (PTI), signals a significant shift in the nation's judicial landscape. As the apex court has historically dismissed similar proposals, citing them as sub-judice matters, this latest development marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing discourse surrounding judicial reform in India.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Personnel, in its action-taken report titled "Judicial Processes and Their Reforms," revealed that the government has given its approval to the committee's recommendation for the creation of regional Supreme Court benches. This decision comes amidst growing calls for enhancing access to justice, a fundamental right enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The committee, in its deliberations, emphasized the critical importance of ensuring that justice reaches the doorsteps of every citizen, highlighting the potential benefits of establishing regional benches in terms of alleviating the burden on the judiciary and reducing litigation costs for the common man.

The proposal put forth by the committee advocates invoking Article 130 of the Constitution, which delineates the Supreme Court's jurisdiction and mandates its sitting in Delhi or other designated locations approved by the Chief Justice of India with the President's consent. Despite the constitutional framework, the committee's persistent advocacy for regional benches underscores the imperative to adapt India's judicial system to the evolving needs of its populace. The proposal envisages the establishment of regional benches in four or five strategically chosen locations across the country, aiming to decentralize the adjudicatory process and enhance accessibility for litigants residing in distant regions.

However, the government's endorsement of this proposal has not come without its share of challenges and reservations. Former Attorney Generals have expressed concerns regarding the potential implications of decentralizing the Supreme Court's operations. Citing apprehensions about the court's unity, integrity, and territorial jurisdiction, they have cautioned against diluting its authority and warned of potential conflicts stemming from divergent views. The dissenting voices, exemplified by the stance articulated by the then Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in March 2016, underscore the complexity of the issue and the need for a nuanced approach towards judicial reform.

In light of these reservations, it is imperative to address the concerns raised by stakeholders while also recognizing the pressing need for reform to ensure the efficacy and accessibility of India's judicial system. The invocation of Article 130 and the establishment of regional benches represent a bold step towards this end, but their implementation must be guided by careful deliberation and consultation with legal experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Moreover, the government's decision to refer the matter to the Attorney General for opinion reflects a commitment to soliciting expert advice and ensuring that any reforms are grounded in legal soundness and constitutional validity.

Furthermore, the proposal to establish regional benches must be viewed within the broader context of ongoing efforts to reform India's judiciary and enhance access to justice. Initiatives such as the establishment of specialized courts, adoption of technology-driven solutions, and capacity-building measures for judicial personnel are essential complements to the proposed reforms. By adopting a multi-pronged approach that addresses systemic challenges while also leveraging technological advancements, India can chart a course towards a more efficient, transparent, and accessible justice delivery system.

The Indian government's decision to advance the proposal for regional benches in the Supreme Court marks a significant milestone in the country's journey towards judicial reform. While challenges and reservations persist, the imperative to enhance access to justice and adapt to evolving societal needs necessitates bold and decisive action. As India navigates the complexities of judicial reform, it must prioritize inclusivity, transparency, and accountability to ensure that its legal system remains a pillar of democracy and upholds the rule of law.