For the first time, SC to have single judge benches to hear bail, transfer cases

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With over 60, 000 cases piled up in the Supreme Court, a new amendment has been passed by the CJI to reduce pendency in the top court. In a first since its genesis, the Supreme Court will now have single judges sitting routinely to decided cases of bail and transfer in cases related to offences entailing a jail term of up to 7 years. This is a move away from two judge (division) or multiple judge benches that the court had been accustomed to till now.

The court notified the Supreme Court Amendment Rules of 2019, which expands to the CJI the authority to hand-pick one of his colleagues to form a Single Bench. Under the rules followed till date, Order VI, Rule 1 of the Supreme Court Rules of 2013, a bench of the court had to have a minimum of two judges. The CJI earlier had the power to appoint one or more judges to hear all cases of an urgent nature during summer or winter holidays.

A gazette notification was issued on September 17, through which the Supreme Court has amended its Supreme Court Rules, 2013.The single judge bench would hear appeals arising out of grants, grant dismissal or rejection of bail or anticipatory bail for offences punishable by imprisonment up to 7 years.

 This Bench would also hear appeals filed under Section 406 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)for transfer of cases from one High Court to the other or one criminal court to another to serve the “ends of justice”. It would decide cases of transfer of an “urgent nature” applied under Section 25 of the CrPC.

Finally, the amended Rules give the CJI complete discretion to periodically notify the category of cases that could be heard and disposed of by the Single Judge Bench.

The Supreme Court website said, “The original Constitution of 1950 envisaged a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 puisne Judges – leaving it to Parliament to increase this number.”

It said, “In the early years, all the Judges of the Supreme Court sat together to hear the cases presented before them. As the work of the Court increased and arrears of cases began to cumulate, Parliament increased the number of Judges from 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978 and 26 in 1986.

“As the number of Judges has increased, they sit in smaller Benches of two and three – coming together in larger Benches of 5 and more only when required to do so or to settle a difference of opinion or controversy,” the apex court website said.

The notification comes in the wake of an overall expansion of the Supreme Court, in order to keep up with the ever increasing list of pending cases and to ensure its smooth functioning. The Judicial strength has been increased from 32 to 34, the highest ever. Two more courtrooms have also been added to the apex court.

The new notification also allows advocates enrolled in any State Bar Council under the Advocates Act to appear and argue a case in person directly without first having to seek the permission of the concerned Registrar.

The new amended rules also said that “The Registrar shall call the original record of the case, including the record of the Courts below, in the criminal appeals involving sentence of life imprisonment of death penalty: Provided that such records shall not be requisitioned in other cases, unless specifically ordered by the Court.”

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