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Setting up NCA may increase access to justice for all
Sunilchandra Dal | Sunday, 12 June 2016 AT 10:27 PM IST
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Litigants have to wait for years to get justice in the Indian legal system. In some cases, the original litigant may expire and the heirs may get the benefit of the final ruling. This endless wait for justice brings to mind the words of Martin Luther King Jr: ‘Justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ The heavy backlog of cases has also affected the Supreme Court, on which we all depend for defending our fundamental rights, hearing public interest litigations, safeguarding the Constitution and hearing appeals from verdicts of high courts. The debate is on in legal circles about ways to resolve the issue and one of the promising suggestions that has come up is setting up of National Courts of Appeal (NCA).

The NCA have been proposed as a tier between the high courts and the Supreme Court. In fact, the Supreme Court has heard a petition for setting up of the NCA. The Court has reserved its order and may refer to a larger bench the question of constitutional validity of the NCA.

The apex court is burdened with a heavy backlog: it had 59,468 pending cases in February 2016. As observed recently by the Court itself, this raises the question whether the principle of access to justice for all citizens has become an illusion.
The Centre has opposed the setting up of NCA. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has said the NCA is ‘neither permissible nor desirable’ and should be left to Parliament as a Constitutional amendment would be required.

Proponents of the NCA argue that the Supreme Court was meant to be a court which would consider important questions of law and interpret the Constitution. But instead, its time goes in hearing ordinary civil and criminal appeals. By taking up the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction, the NCA will give the apex court more time for its main role.

The NCA would have regional benches in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata and would be the final court for appeals from the decisions of the High Courts and tribunals in their region. This would mean that litigants would no longer have to travel all the way to New Delhi to file appeals.

The NCA also means a boom of sorts for the overcrowded legal profession. Taking this into account, the silence of the bar associations on this matter is surprising. The NCA could speed up hearing of cases in the Supreme Court, as it has done in many countries including Ireland.

SC appellate benches mooted

An alternative to the NCA is to set up Appellate Benches of the Supreme Court in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and New Delhi for handling all appeals from the high courts. This would not need a Constitutional amendment and would have all advantages of NCA too.

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