SCO Daily: Live-streaming Begins, EWS Reservation Judgment Reserved
A historic first in SC Livestreaming, three Constitution Bench developments, addition of a Fourth Constitution bench announced.
Lots of important news from the Supreme Court today!
First, in a historic move, the Supreme Court live streamed hearings from Constitution Benches where critical questions of law are decided. Throughout the day, over 10,000 citizens tuned in to the official channel, engaging directly with the Supreme Court like never before. They heard arguments in the Challenge to Economic Reservations, the controversial Maharashtra Political Crisis, and the Challenge to the All India Bar Examination for lawyers.
Chief Justice Lalit’s Bench completed hearings in the Challenge to reservations for Economically Weaker Sections, and reserved Judgment. This Judgment will answer some critical questions on affirmative action through reservations in India. Can reservations be granted solely on the basis of economic criteria? Can States provide reservations in private educational institutions which do not receive government aid? Can scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes be excluded from EWS reservations, even if people belonging to these classes face severe economic disadvantage? This Judgment may finally provide clarity on the purpose of reservations and how States must identify the people who need it most.
The next big news came from Justice Chandrachud’s Constitution Bench, which was hearing the first day of arguments on whether the Election Commission can decide which faction of the Shiv Sena—Uddhav Thackeray’s or Eknath Shinde’s—is the ‘real’ Shiv Sena. This ‘real’ party would use the party symbol in the upcoming Municipal elections in the State. The Shinde faction argued that the EC should be allowed to make the decision, even though larger constitutional questions of defection are pending in Court. They said that elections were just around the corner, and delays would be anti-democratic. The Thackarey faction argued that the symbol issue is inextricably linked to the question of disqualification. After hearing both factions for over 5 hours, the Bench decided not to delay or interfere with the EC proceedings.
A third Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul began to hear the challenge to Bar Council of India’s All India Bar Examination (AIBE). The Bar Exam is required for Advocates who intend to practice in Indian Courts. In 2016, a 3-Judge Bench had held that the right to practice law was not only a statutory right under the Act, but is also a fundamental right for LL.B. degree holders. An examination which grants licenses to advocates violated this right. Today, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Senior Advocate Mr. Vishwanathan appeared as amicus curiae, a ‘friend of the Court’ who offers information or expertise to the Court. He argued that the Bar Council is duty bound to take all steps to ensure that a high standard of education is maintained by Law Schools across the country. The Bar Exam is one such step. Arguments will continue tomorrow.
A fourth 5-Judge Constitution Bench was set up today. This Bench, led by Justice Abdul Nazeer, will assemble tomorrow to organise hearings in the 5 cases. First, the Validity of the 2016 Demonetisation Policy. Second, on whether State Officials can be restricted from exercising their Freedom of Speech. Third, on whether MLAs enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution under Article 194(2) against bribery. Fourth, whether the Court has the power to ‘Proceed against Other Persons Appearing to be Guilty of an Offence’ in criminal cases. And finally, whether inferences on the guilt of a public servant charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act, can be drawn, if there is no evidence of the alleged actions.
20 out of 29 sitting Judges of the SC are now on Constitution Benches. This number is unprecedented in recent years and reflects Chief Justice Lalit’s commitment to shifting the Court’s focus to Constitutional matters from miscellaneous appeals.
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