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SC to decide if National Court of Appeal is a good idea

Five judges of the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench will examine the feasibility of setting up a National Court of Appeal with four regional benches in North, South, East and West - with the apex court taking up matters involving the interpretation of the constitution and issues of national importance.

A bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur, Justice R Banumathi and Justice UU Lalit in their judgement on Wednesday referred the matter to the five-judge Constitution Bench as it involved provisions of the Constitution which have been flagged by the Central government to oppose the plea.

The judgement referring the NCA plea to the five-judge bench was pronounced by Chief Justice Thakur on Wednesday.

Referring the matter to the Constitution Bench, the court framed 11 question to be addressed by it including the amendment to the Constitution involving its basic structure which has been held be sacrosanct and unalterable.

“Keeping in view the importance of the questions and the need for reforms which have been long felt, we deem it proper to refer the same to a Constitutional Bench for an authoritative pronouncement,” the judgment said.

One of the questions while referring to long delays in deciding the cases at all levels, said, “would it not be part of the responsibility and duty of the Supreme Court of India to examine through a Constitution Bench, the issue of divesting the Supreme Court of about 80 per cent of the pendency of cases of a routine nature, to recommend to Government, its opinion on the proposal for establishing four Courts of Appeal, so that the Supreme Court with about 2,500 cases a year instead of about 60,000, may regain its true status as a Constitutional Court?”

The top court was moved by V Vasantha Kumar who had in a PIL sought the setting up of the NCA with regional benches in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

However, the plea was opposed by the Central government as it told the court that “it is a self-defeating exercise”, asking “what is the purpose of having another court of appeal”.

The central government on 28 April had told the bench that “Right to come (approach) to the Supreme Court was an inalienable right, it can’t be shut by leaving it to another court”, and every case that would be decided by the suggested NCA, and the losing party will say that it involves the question of Constitution and come to the apex court.

Senior counsel KK Venugopal, who is also amicus curiae in the matter, in the course of the earlier hearing had said that the role of the apex court should be limited to examining the issues of national and exceptional importance including the interpretation of the Constitution and the rest should be left to be decided and terminated at the National Court of Appeal.

To buttress his plea, he had given the breakup of the cases coming to the apex court saying that out of every 10 cases coming before the Supreme Court, 9.5 cases were from the states in proximity of Delhi, including Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

The balance came from the rest of the country with Kerala and northeastern states being distant last in number of cases and a National Court of Appeal would take away a large part of apex court cases, thereby reducing their pendency.

The court has earlier asked Venugopal to frame the issues to be addressed by the Constitution Bench.

National Court of Appeal judgment (26 pages)

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