Posted on 27.10.17 by Ashwini Tallur
The Supreme Court is the official source of data on case-load and case-flow in the court. The official website of the Supreme Court of India provides intermittent data on the number of pending cases which restricts the number and type of conclusions that can be drawn from the analyses of the data.
Figure (a) shows us the number of pending matters between December 2016 and April 2017. We can notice a consistent drop in the number of pending matters in the first quarter of 2017.
Pending matters are categorized into ‘Admission Matters’ and ‘Regular Hearing Matters’. Admission matters are fresh cases filed which are pending hearing. These matters could be pending on account of incomplete pleadings or certain procedural formalities, or because they have not been taken up by the Court. Regular hearing matters are those that have been admitted by the Court and involve substantial questions of law that must be argued before, heard by, and decided on.
Figure (b) shows the split between the two categories of pending matters. It is interesting to note that the split between the two categories remains static across this quarter.
Constitution benches are benches comprising of 5 or more Judges, which decide matters involving a substantial question of law on the interpretation of the Constitution.
Figure (c) depicts the number of pending constitution bench matters. We observe a steady rise in the number of cases referred to constitution benches in the first quarter of 2017.
It is interesting to note that the frequency of cases invoking Article 136 of the Constitution, i.e., direct appeals to the Supreme Court challenging the ruling of a lower court, has seen a steady increase, post-1996. Post-1996, we see a gradual rise in the numbers.
As can be seen in Figure (d), there is a spike in the number of SLPs filed in 1995, followed by a drop in 1996.
Figure (e) presents a clearer picture of the trend in the number of Certificate Appeals filed in the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the trend is reversed in this case.
Justice Chelameswar has conjectured that the decline in the number of certificate appeals and spike in SLPs could be due to the fact that the Supreme Court has relaxed the rigours of scrutiny with respect to SLPs, and at the same time, cautioned the High Court against granting certificates of appeal in a casual manner. He opines that the justification for the Supreme Court relaxing its scrutiny in SLPs could be that it feels that the Indian legal system is inefficient. The absence of precise parameters to scrutinize and admit matters is also a contributing factor.
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