11% of Cases Filed Before the SC are Admitted
Only 11% of cases filed before the Supreme Court proceed past the admissions stage to the regular stage of hearings.
In this post, we track the number of cases instituted at the Supreme Court of India over a five-year period (2016-2020). We further track the number of cases that were instituted at the admissions stage and at the regular stage of hearings. In the past five years, the Supreme Court heard a minuscule number of cases at the regular hearing stage compared to those at the admissions stage. A majority of the Court’s docket consists of cases that do not proceed to the regular stage of hearings, indicating that it spends a large portion of its time on cases that do not raise substantial issues.
When a case is first filed (‘instituted’) at the Supreme Court of India, it is heard at the ‘admissions’ stage. At the admissions stage, the Court decides whether to ‘admit’ the case. If a case is admitted, it means that it is allowed to advance to the ‘regular’ hearing stage.
The Court spends two days of the week—Monday and Friday—exclusively on hearing cases at the admissions stage. Judges sit in Benches of two or three, and hear oral arguments on why the case must be instituted at the ‘regular’ hearing stage. If the Bench decides that a case may not proceed to the regular stage, it is disposed of at the admissions stage itself. At the admissions stage, a single Bench may hear more than thirty cases in a day, with oral arguments in many cases lasting for merely a few minutes.
Data from the past five years shows that while many cases are instituted at the admissions stage, a disproportionately low number are instituted at the regular stage of hearings.
In 2016 for instance, a total of 79,244 cases were instituted, out of which 71,460 were cases that were instituted at the admissions stage. In the same year, only 7,784 cases were taken forward to the regular stage. The bulk of the Court’s docket (91%) consisted of admissions stage matters.
This holds true for all the five years that we studied. In these five years, we found that out of the total cases instituted, on an average 11% consisted of cases that were instituted at the regular stage. 2020 saw only 8% of total cases being instituted at the regular stage. It is unclear if this dip in institutions at the regular stage can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Court shifted to virtual hearings.
Cases at the admissions stage are mainly ‘Special Leave Petitions’ (SLPs), which are appeals against judgments of other courts. The Court decides to admit an SLP when there is an exceptional circumstance and a ‘grave or substantial injustice’ has occurred. However, data shows that a resounding majority of cases are disposed of at the admissions stage. The Court is currently encumbered by a staggering 70,000 pending cases, with a steadily increasing pendency rate. Yet, the Court spends a significant portion of time on cases that do not proceed past the admissions stage, leaving less time for it to decide on important issues.