Interpreting the Constitution: Indian Supreme Court Constitution Benches Since Independence

Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XLVI, No. 9, February 26, 2011

6 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2011 Last revised: 23 Sep 2012

Nick Robinson

Yale Law School; Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession; Center for Policy Research (India)

Anjana Agarwal

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Vrinda Bhandari

Independent

Ankit Goel

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Karishma Kakkar

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Reeba Muthalaly

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Vivek Shivakumar

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Meera Sreekumar

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Surya Sreenivasan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Shruti Viswanathan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: February 26, 2011

Abstract

Constitution benches have been vital to the Indian Supreme Court’s jurisprudence. However, the number of these benches has fallen since the 1960s leading to a reshaping of how the Court has interpreted the Indian Constitution. This article examines all constitution benches from independence until the end of 2009 (1,532 cases). We find that even as constitution benches have become less frequent, their judgments have become longer, more prone to split decisions, increasingly delayed, and more likely to have been brought under both appellate and writ jurisdictions. In fact, given the more convoluted nature of these decisions in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to even determine the winning party. That said, appellants/petitioners now do better than respondents before constitution benches, while the government continues to do disproportionately well and companies have significantly improved their records. The Court is relatively open to citing foreign judgments, although it cited them most frequently in the decade after independence. Meanwhile, the chief justice plays a dominant role in not only choosing when constitution benches are heard, but also which judges will hear the case. Using this analysis, which paints a far more textured picture of these benches than has previously been available, we make a set of recommendations to help strengthen the Supreme Court’s constitution benches.

Keywords: Indian Supreme Court, Constitution, Supreme Court Judges, Constitution Benches, Constitutional Jurisprudence, Quantitative Analysis, Supreme Court Caseload

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Nick and Agarwal, Anjana and Bhandari, Vrinda and Goel, Ankit and Kakkar, Karishma and Muthalaly, Reeba and Shivakumar, Vivek and Sreekumar, Meera and Sreenivasan, Surya and Viswanathan, Shruti, Interpreting the Constitution: Indian Supreme Court Constitution Benches Since Independence (February 26, 2011). Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XLVI, No. 9, February 26, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1883272

Nick Robinson (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Center for Policy Research (India) ( email )

Dharma Marg
Chanakyapuri
New Delhi, 110022
India

Anjana Agarwal

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Vrinda Bhandari

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Ankit Goel

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Karishma Kakkar

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Reeba Muthalaly

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Vivek Shivakumar

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Meera Sreekumar

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Surya Sreenivasan

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Shruti Viswanathan

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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