in Constitutional Law
Asked February 23, 2014

Importance of Constitution of Bench

  • 1 Answer

I recently heard that the central government has challenged the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court bench that commuted the death penalty of the 3 persons who were found guilty of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. So I was wondering how important is the constitution of the bench? Does it depend on the kind of case, like if it is criminal or civil? Is it only important at the Supreme Court or does the issue of benches come up in high court and district court issues too?

Answer 1

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Ashwini Panwar

While there are no specific standards to decide the constitution of a bench, the Supreme Court of India has had a very short history. Initially, when the Supreme Court was formed, there were only 8 judges and they used to sit in a jury, all at the same time. However, the case of Commander K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra (1962 AIR 605 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 56)  was the last case that was decided by the jury and after that, the Supreme Court decided to have division benches and constitutional bench. Now, unlike high courts and the other lower courts, the Supreme Court does not have a bench with a single judge and they sit only in benches of 2, 3, 5 and so on.

Constitution of Bench is obviously an important aspect. While there is no specific procedure for deciding which judge would preside over which bench. Generally it is the collegium that is headed by the Chief Justice and two senior most judges that sort of selects the judges. Apart from that, if the Division Bench deems it necessary to refer the matter to a higher Bench, it can do so by referring the case to the CJI. As per Art.145(3) of the Constitution, any case involving matter involving substantial question of law as to interpretation of the Constitution should be heard by a bench of at least 5 judges.

Apart from all this, in case the Supreme Court has to overrule a case, it may have to constitute a bigger bench than the precedent in order to overrule the precedent. I’m attaching these two links that would help you get a better understanding:

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