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Regular-article-logo Monday, 05 June 2023

Single-judge benches enter Supreme Court

Move to allow hearing of more cases

R. Balaji New Delhi Published 12.05.20, 10:16 PM
The Supreme Court now has 32 judges, against a sanctioned strength of 34. The single-judge benches will from Wednesday deal with matters relating to bail, anticipatory bail, and transfer of cases from one high court to another and from one subordinate court to another.

The Supreme Court now has 32 judges, against a sanctioned strength of 34. The single-judge benches will from Wednesday deal with matters relating to bail, anticipatory bail, and transfer of cases from one high court to another and from one subordinate court to another. iStock photo

The Supreme Court will for the first time in its 83-year existence constitute single-judge benches, a move accelerated by the mounting number of cases during the lockdown.

Constituting one-judge benches will help free up more judges, and consequently allow the hearing of more cases. The Supreme Court now has 32 judges, against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges.

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The single-judge benches will from Wednesday deal with matters relating to bail, anticipatory bail, and transfer of cases from one high court to another and from one subordinate court to another.

According to convention, the Supreme Court judges usually sit in combinations of two or three judges. At times the number is increased to five, seven, nine, 11 or 13 judges, depending on the importance of a case. Any combination of more than three judges is generally known as a Constitution bench.

But this is the first time a single judge will be constituting a bench. Single-judge benches are common in high courts and trial courts.

The Supreme Court has over 60,000 pending cases, and the nearly two-month lockdown has further aggravated the situation. The court has been conducting hearings via videoconference.

It is not known how many single-judge benches will be constituted.

Although a decision to constitute single-judge benches was taken by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in September 2019, it will be formally implemented from Wednesday by current CJI Sharad Bobde after consultations with the second senior-most judge, Justice N.V. Ramana, and others.

CJI Bobde issued a formal order on May 11 evening for setting up single-judge benches by exercising his powers under Article 145 which allows the top court to frame its own rules and regulations for conduct of proceedings.

Regarding bail pleas of convicts, the single-judge benches will be able to conduct hearings in only those cases where the maximum punishment is seven years’ imprisonment. There will, however, be no such restrictions in cases that are at the hearing stage.

These benches will also be able to decide on anticipatory bail and acquittal orders passed by the high courts, besides offences that entail a maximum punishment of up to seven years.

Civil suits that are transferred from the trial courts or the high court can also be heard by the single-judge benches.

Currently, only two-judge benches deal with criminal and civil disputes in the Supreme Court.

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