Significance of Circuit Benches

Synopsis: Virtual hearings started during the pandemic provided much relief. However, now focus should be on other measures like the establishment of circuit benches.

Background:
  • The pandemic saw the initiation of virtual proceedings in the Supreme Court. It was because the physical hearing was not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • This new method ensured fair and equal access to justice for many people. Now, many are demanding a continuation of this novel practice even in a post-pandemic scenario. 
  • However, it will not be sufficient. For increasing accessibility more circuit benches
What are circuit benches?
  • A dedicated place in Delhi is provided for the functioning of the Supreme Court (SC).
  • The Constitutional makers wanted the Court to have a specified place of sitting so that litigants can approach it.
  • They were also aware of the geographical constraints of India. Hence, they empowered the Chief Justice to establish circuit benches. 
    • These are temporary courts that hold proceedings for a few selected months in a year.
  • Nonetheless, no circuit benches have been established despite rising Pendencies.
The adverse impact of Fixed Location:
  • Denial of Justice: Many litigants are discouraged to travel to Delhi from far away locations like south or northeast India.
  • Further, as per a report of Centre for Policy Research, a disproportionately high number of cases filed in the Supreme Court originates in High Courts closer to Delhi.
    • Almost 18% of all cases in the Supreme Court originate from Punjab and Haryana. They have less than 5% of the total population share.
    • But States like West Bengal, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh which make about 20% population, contributed to less than 10% of cases.
  • Appearance in SC has become an exclusive domain of limited lawyers located around Delhi. This also puts an additional financial burden on litigants as they can’t hire their local lawyers.

However, these constraints were effectively tackled by Virtual proceedings during the pandemic that resulted in more equitable access to justice.

Way Forward:
  • The Chief Justice must establish circuit benches as recommended by multiple law commissions and parliamentary committees. 
  • For the time being, SC must continue with the virtual proceedings along with physical proceedings in order to prevent denial of justice. The court can also continue it as a matter of just and equitable policy if not as a matter of right.

THE HINDU


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