An Empirical Study of the Supreme Court

(Guest Post by Alok Prasanna)
The Supreme Court of India today is a very
different creature from what it was when it was set up in 1950. From being
envisaged initially as an apex constitutional court, it in danger of becoming a
regular court of appeals with some constitutional functions. The data collected
by Nick Robinson and put out in this article shows just how much as
Special Leave Petitions have come to dominate the Supreme Court’s caseload,
seemingly at the expense of its writ jurisdiction and constitutional functions.
In addition, the data from the Supreme Court itself as discussed by Robinson
also seemed to show the regional disparity in the access to the Supreme Court
as well. Both these aspects have been examined in some detail in the Consultation
Paper
Vidhi issued last year.
To follow up on this and to study the
possible causes and solutions to the problems affecting the Supreme Court’s
efficiency and efficacy, we took a look at the caseload numbers for 2014 in the
Report “Towards an
Efficient and Effective Supreme Court
” published this week. Using code
developed by Nigel Babu for us, Vidhi looked at the Appeals, SLPs, Writ
Petitions, Transfer Petitions, and review petitions (both in civil and criminal
cases) filed in the Supreme Court in 2014 to understand what the Supreme
Court’s workload in a given year looks like. The information available in the “Case Status” section of the Supreme
Court’s website has been collected through software in the second half of 2015
to create this dataset.
Some of the results were quite expected:
  1. SLPs form more than 80% of
    the cases filed in 2014.
  2. The presence of a senior
    advocate nearly doubles the chances of notice being issued in an SLP (~60% v
    33%).
  3. 95% of all review petitions
    get dismissed in limine.
  4. The bulk of transfer
    petitions involve transfer of cases under the Code of Civil Procedure from one
    Court to another. 

Some were expected but not at the scale
the data showed:
  1. 96% of all appeals filed
    challenging orders of the AFT were filed by the Central Government.
  2. 96% of all appeals filed by
    the Government against orders of the AFT were dismissed in limine.

Some were unexpected and somewhat
counter-intuitive:
  1. The Supreme Court issues
    notice in nearly 43% of the SLPs it hears.
  2. Central Government is
    responsible only for 7% of the fresh cases filed in the Supreme Court.

This is of course data from one year alone
but we hope to expand upon the data set for subsequent and previous years as
well where possible. We have put up the raw data that we scraped on our website
and anyone who is interested in drawing further insights from it is most
welcome. The status of the cases in our dataset, whether pending or not,
would’ve changed since we collected the data and we’ll try to update it when
possible.

While
our initial Consultation Paper was looking at creating a National Court of
Appeals as a possible solution to the problems of an overburdened Supreme
Court, given the problems of creating a new judicial body, starting it up with
a vast backlog and having the constitutional amendment withstand judicial
scrutiny under the basic structure test, we felt that it would not be a
feasible response. Rather, we have suggested some measures which can be
undertaken by the Supreme Court itself, or administrative steps that can be
taken by the Central Government to reduce the litigation burden of the Supreme
Court.

(Alok Prasanna is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy)

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