As CJI U.U. Lalit kick-starts his brief tenure, he may be chasing ambitious targets

SPEAKING at a felicitation event organised by the Bar Council of India in his honour on Friday, the Chief Justice of India, U.U.Lalit claimed, on the basis of the data supplied to him by the Supreme Court’s Registry, that the Court has disposed of 1293 miscellaneous matters and 106 regular hearing matters from Monday to Friday.  During the same period, the Court also disposed of 440 transfer petition cases.  

In terms of working days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays) CJI U.U.Lalit’s 74-days tenure comprises 40 days of hearing by the Supreme Court from August 29 to November 7.   If one works out the average number of cases disposed per day during the first week he has been in office,  one can estimate that at the end of his tenure, the Supreme Court would have disposed of 12920 miscellaneous cases, 1060 regular hearing cases, and 4400 transfer cases. 

Now, let us look at the hard data before us.  The data on monthly pending cases, as shown at the Supreme Court’s website, tells us the following: 

As on May 1, 2021, a week after Justice N.V. Ramana took over as the CJI, the number of pending matters stood at 67,898.  Out of these, 12,945 (12876 incomplete Miscellaneous Matters and 69 Not Ready Regular Matters) were such which could not be listed for hearing before Court. Therefore, the actual number of pending matters on May 1, 2021 was only 54,953.  

On September 1, the number of pending matters had risen to 70,310. Out of these, if one excludes 12,092 incomplete miscellaneous matters and 60 not ready regular matters, the actual number of pending matters would be 57,686.   

If the Supreme Court keeps up the momentum of disposal of cases, as seen in the first working week,  the actual number of pending matters, at the end of CJI Justice Lalit’s tenure on November 7 would be substantially high.

But it is extremely unlikely that the number of pending matters can be drastically brought down in 40 days, as the data may suggest.  It is because, in the coming weeks, as the CJI Justice Lalit had promised, he would focus not just on the listing of cases, but also on mentioning of urgent matters and Constitution benches. 

The number of Constitution bench matters stood at 444 at the beginning of  the previous CJI, Ramana’s tenure.  This included 48 main matters and 396 connected matters.  Of these 294 were five judges bench matters, 15 were seven  judges bench matters (of which seven were main and eight were connected), and 135 were nine judges bench matters (five main and 130 connected).  

The number of Constitution bench matters rose to 493 on September 1. Of these, five judges bench matters were 343, although the number of pending seven and nine judges bench matters remained stagnant.   With the Supreme Court announcing that it will hear 25 pending five-judge bench cases on key constitutional issues, the number of judges available for disposing of pending miscellaneous and regular matters is bound to be less.  

Interim bail to human rights activist, Teesta Setalvad

The picture of the beaming Teesta Setalvad coming out of the Sabarmati Central jail, Ahmedabad, on Saturday, said it all.   But the English newspapers have noted a refreshing change in the attitude of the Supreme Court since Justice Lalit’s taking over as the CJI, and this augurs well for his tenure and beyond, whatever the case disposal data may suggest.

The Supreme Court has dealt a firm rebuff to the  Gujarat Government, said The Hindu’s editorial.  The bail’s real significance, noted the editorial, is that it is a strong pushback against a government that seems intent on keeping her behind bars for daring to assist victims of heinous communal violence in their efforts to seek justice.  

The Indian  Express termed it as an “unconscionable lack of urgency” on the part of the Gujarat High Court in hearing Setalvad’s plea for interim bail, which forced the Supreme Court to intervene.   According to the newspaper, the Supreme Court today  holds out a larger promise of a vigilant court, regardless of the final outcome of the Setalvad case, and whatever course it takes. 

Setalvad’s senior counsel, Kapil Sibal, who argued the matter before the Supreme Court, has perhaps reasons to modify his recently-expressed doubts whether the court could ever be independent. “After 50 years (of practice) in the Supreme Court, I find that I have no expectation from this institution”, he had said while speaking at the People’s Tribunal on ‘Judicial Rollback of Civil Liberties’ last month.  

As if to vindicate what Sibal had said, Attorney General for India, K.K. Venugopal has declined his consent to initiate contempt proceedings against Sibal for his statement, as sought by a Delhi advocate, Vineet Jindal, under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act.  Jindal had alleged that Sibal made the statement with intent to disgrace and scandalise the sitting judges of the Supreme Court.  However, Venugopal replied to Jindal thus: “The statements which pertain to loss of faith in the SC are not contemptuous on the face of it.  No part of these statements casts any blame or aspersion upon the Court.”

Some recent articles published by the Leaflet on the reform of bail jurisprudence

  •  On July 13, Paras Nath Singh’s report explained how the Supreme Court sought to reform bail jurisprudence, when a bench of  Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh has sought to issue directions to fill the legislative void for the purpose.
  • On August 14, Shailesh Poddar explained that compliance is the key when it comes to enforcing Supreme Court’s guidelines in bail matters. 
  • On August 29, Jahnavi Sindhu and Vikram Aditya Narayan wrote an opinion piece suggesting that the Supreme Court’s order quashing fact-checker Mohammed Zubair’s arrest provides an important template to check abuse of power. 


Why the Gujarat Government’s remission order in Bilkis Bano case militates against international law?

In a podcast uploaded today, I interview Professor Saumya Uma, Director, Centre for Women’s Rights, Jindal Global Law School.  According to her,  given that the Gujarat government has remitted the life sentences of the 11 convicted persons in the Bilkis Bano case without adequate reasons, it is inconsistent with the principles of international law.

As we observe the fourth anniversary of Navtej Singh Johar on September 6, let us ask: Will the judiciary walk the talk?

Rohin Bhatt argues in this article published on September 3 that the doctrine of transformative constitutionalism demands that we acknowledge queerness legally, through the law, protect the rights of queer couples, and allow them to flourish.

Secret detentions and enforced disappearances strike fear in China

In this essay published on August 30, Prachi Arya seeks to understand detentions of Tibetans and many others in People’s Republic of China through poems, essays and the written word, to mark the United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. 

The Leaflet