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
Date Written: February 26, 2011
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
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