In one of his last judgments prior to his recent retirement, Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court opined that there should be regional benches or circuit benches of the Supreme Court outside Delhi (Karthik Ranganathan v. Disciplinary Committee-IV, Bar Council of Tamil Nadu & Puducherry).
Justice Kirubakaranalso urged the Central government to consider constituting circuit benches or permanent benches of all tribunals in New Delhi, as well as the Bar Council of India, in each regional zone "for the benefit of common man, at the earliest."
The location of courts and tribunals in New Delhi alone, without having regional benches, causes injustice to people living in far flung areas away from Delhi, the judge said.
"This injustice continues right from the year 1950 onwards. With great respect to all the stake holders, this Court is of the opinion that the steps taken to do justice had been nipped in bud by the concerned stake holders. It is very unfortunate that majority of the litigants are compelled to accept unfavorable orders, for lack of resources and access to Appellate Courts," he observed further.
The fact that approaching the Supreme Court remains a dream for the common man would amount to denying justice and no purpose would be served merely by declaring access to justice a fundamental right, the judge commented.
The judge went on to highlight that Article 130 of the Constitution of India provides that "the Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint.”
Whereas the Law Commission of India has also suggested the constitution of benches in various regions, the (then) Chief Justice of India decided that there was no justification for having Benches outside New Delhi, the Court Judge noted. However, Justice Kirubakaran has urged for a re-look into the matter.
"There is no constitutional bar for setting up or establishing Benches in various parts other than New Delhi. It is equally clear that without establishing Benches, the Hon’ble Supreme Court also could sit by way of Circuit Benches in various parts. It is well settled Law by the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the policy decisions of the Government cannot be interfered with."
Courts exist for the convenience of litigants and should not be viewed as the "forts of advocates and judges," he added.
"The litigants from every nook and corner of the country should have accessibility and affordability and it is possible only by having Benches, as recommended by the Law Commission in its 125th report," he said.
The judge added that these observations are not meant to be viewed as a "lament in the darkness" or as "irrelevant obiter."
"This Court expects some action from the Central Government in this regard, one way or the other, with the Government is required to apply its mind on a method to remedy this perilous situation at the earliest, including amendment of Constitution for establishment of regional Bench of Hon'ble Supreme Court, as recommended by various Law Commissions of India and Parliamentary affairs Committees," he emphasized.
On a parting note, the Court said,
"Only based on the facts, the present order has been passed and it may not be understood that this Court has passed this order, exceeding its limits."
The order was passed while dealing with a writ petition challenging an order of the disciplinary committee of the Tamil Nadu Bar Council, whereby a complaint for professional misconduct against an advocate was dismissed. The disciplinary committee's decision in the matter was upheld by the Court, which granted the petitioner two weeks' time to prefer an appeal before the Bar Council of India (BCI).
Justice Kirubakaran's observations on larger issues concerning access to justice were prompted after the petitioner's counsel raised concerns over the difficulty in approaching the BCI to challenge the disciplinary committee decision since it was located in Delhi.
Justice R Pongiappan, who was also on the Bench to decide the case, agreed with Justice Kirubakaran insofar as the decision to uphold the disciplinary committee's decision was concerned. However, he disagreed with Justice Kirubakaran's comments on the other broader issues.