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SCOI Report: CJI Thakur makes crucial changes in bench composition, constitutes constitution bench, leaves fate of social justice bench uncertain

CJI Thakur: Making changes
CJI Thakur: Making changes

Every Chief Justice of India (CJI), soon after taking over, would first try to get a grip over the bench composition, which was determined according to the requirements of his predecessor.

Taking note of the fact that his predecessor, Justice HL Dattu, found it a problem constituting appropriate benches to hear matters referred to constitution benches, CJI TS Thakur has found merit in constituting a constitution bench, comprising five Judges, to sit from 11 January on the afternoon of Mondays and Fridays.

On those so-called miscellaneous days benches had earlier heard miscellaneous cases in the first half, and generally avoided sitting in the afternoons.

The exceptions, of course, were the special benches, which used to sit on the afternoon of Mondays and Fridays, when they heard special bench cases, starting with item numbers 301 and above.

The future of the social justice bench, which used to sit at 2pm every Friday, now has a question mark against it, as the final list for 8 January (Friday) does not list social bench cases.

The previous social justice bench, comprising of justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit, which has been hearing cases since 17 December 2014, appears to have been split, with Lokur sitting with Justice RK Agrawal in Court No 8 and Lalit sitting with Justice V Gopala Gowda in Court No 10 on 8 January.

It is still possible that the supplementary list for 8 January may list the social bench cases before justices Lokur and Lalit in the afternoon. But its chances appear to be dim because if either of them makes it to the constitution bench, which is expected to sit from 11 January on the afternoon of Mondays and Fridays, the social justice bench may have to take a break for quite some time.

It is not clear whether the composition of the social justice bench would also change with the new CJI’s reshuffles.

The hearing of the Extra Judicial Execution of Victim Families Association vs Union of India, which is listed in the advance lists of 6 and 7 January, and which was heard previously by justices Lokur and Lalit, therefore, assumes significance.

The hearing of this matter has reached a crucial stage, and the bench is likely to decide whether the petitioners’ plea for constitution of a Special Investigation Team to probe the encounter deaths in Manipur could be granted.

The final lists for 6 and 7 January are still not out. It is likely that justices Lokur and Lalit will continue to hear this matter, even though the hearing of other social justice bench matters by them at this stage, appears to be uncertain.

Among the 10 CB cases listed for hearing, the Aadhaar case finds no mention, as it requires the constitution of a bench with nine or 11 judges.

Details of those 10 cases can be read here

Another interesting highlight from the cause lists uploaded is that the delivery of the judgment in the Kerala bar licence case has been scheduled for 10:30 on 29 December by the bench which heard the matter, as one of the judges, Justice Vikramajit Sen is retiring on 30 December.

The apex court will resume on 4 January.

Note: The original headline mistakenly stated that two constitution benches had been set up. However, we have only confirmed the setting up of one constitution bench so far.

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