New Delhi: The Supreme Court has for the first time since its inception provided for sitting of a single-judge bench to hear appeals of bail and anticipatory bail in cases related to offences entailing jail term up to seven years. The step has been taken to reduce the growing backlog of cases.
As on June 1, 2019, there were 58,669 cases pending in the apex court.
As per the rules which have been amended, the single judge would also hear transfer petitions.
The Supreme Court judges till now normally used to sit in the combination of two. Court number 1, which is presided over by the Chief Justice of India, also sits in the combination of three-judges.
A gazette notification was issued on September 17, through which the Supreme Court has amended its Supreme Court Rules, 2013.
It said the following categories of matters may be "heard and disposed of finally by a judge sitting singly nominated by the Chief Justice: Special Leave Petition arising out of grant, dismissal or rejection of bail application or anticipatory bail application in the matters filed against the order passed under section 437, section 438 or section 439 of CrPC involving offences punishable with sentence up to seven years imprisonment".
The amended rules also stated that the application for transfer of cases under section 406 of CrPC and application of an urgent nature for transfer of cases under section 25 of Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) will also be heard by a single judge bench.
The notification further said that Chief Justice of India (CJI) may notify any other category of cases time to time, for final disposal by a single judge bench.
It said that single judge will be nominated by the Chief Justice for disposal of said categories of cases.
Earlier, as per Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and older rules, the CJI had the power to appoint one or more judges to hear all matters of an urgent nature during summer vacation or winter holidays.
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 the 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.
Besides, sitting of a single judge, 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."
Several others amendments have been made in the earlier rules of the top court to ensure its smooth functioning.
With a huge backlog of cases in the top court, the government had recently increased the strength of its judges from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India.
As of today, the apex court has 30 judges. Once the new judges take oath, the strength will go up to 34, the highest ever.
(With inputs from PTI and IANS.)