Court Data

How many Constitution Bench cases are pending? [2020]

The post looks at the number of Constitution Bench cases pending in the Court.

In the first half of 2020, the Supreme Court witnessed an increase in the number of pending cases. As of the latest official monthly report, pendency sits at 60,444 cases, a roughly 1% increase.

By contrast, the Supreme Court has been able to reduce the number of pending Constitution Bench (CB) matters. CB cases generally pertain to substantial questions of constitutional law and comprise five or more judges (see Article 145(2)). An average CB matter takes up substantially more of the Court’s time than other types of cases. Sometimes, CB cases can even be heard daily for more than a month, such as in the Ayodhya Title Dispute.

Since January this year, the Supreme Court has been able to reduce the number of pending Constitution Bench matters from 51 to 46 cases. At first glance, this might not sound like much. However, a single CB matter usually comprises multiple tagged matters. The decrease from January to July amounts to a decrease of 115 cases, when one counts the tagged matters. Undoubtedly, disposing of these cases frees up a substantial amount of the Court’s time.

As the graph above illustrates, CB pendency continuously decreased in 2020, except for in March. On 1 March, the number of pending CB cases hit its current annual high of 52 cases. Interestingly, this roughly corresponded to when India shutdown due to COVID. Since this peak, CB pendency has steadily dropped and, as of 1 July, sits at a low of 46 cases.

The largest reduction in five-judge bench matters

The Court’s monthly statistics reports provide a granular breakdown of CB pendency by bench strength. Each report lists not only the total number of pending cases but also the number of cases pending before five-judge, seven-judge and nine-judge benches.

Almost all of the changes in CB pendency have occurred at the five-judge bench level. As the graph below illustrates, the number of seven-judge bench cases has remained constant, while the number of nine-judge bench cases has only increased by one. By contrast, the number of pending five-judge bench cases has decreased by 6 cases.

If the Court continues at this rate for the rest of the year, we can expect it to dispose of at least 5-6 Constitution Bench cases. While a majority of these will likely be five-judge Bench cases, we may see a seven or nine-judge Bench case disposed of. Could we see a judgment in the Sabarimala review petitions?