The CJI’s Constitution Benches: The Journey So Far and the Road Ahead

DESK BRIEF: CJI Chandrachud's focus on Constitution Bench cases highlights the SC's role as a Constitutional Court.

The CJI Chandrachud-led Constitution Benches have kept themselves extremely busy, and the days ahead promise little respite. Last week the Bench reserved Judgement in the politically controversial disqualification case arising from the Maharashtra Legislature. The Court has heard arguments in the case over 20 times since last June. Finally, the Eknath Shinde and Uddhav Thackeray factions of the Shiv Sena have exhausted their submissions. Unless the case is referred to a larger Bench, all that is left is the Judgement to decide which faction will walk away with the title of ‘the real Shiv Sena’ before the case is closed for good.

Less than a week later a new Constitution Bench, (with CJI Chandrachud and Justice Narasimha as the only holdovers) began hearing a new case. The Bench will decide if the ‘Group of Companies Doctrine’ (the GOCD) applies to domestic arbitration proceedings. Through mutual consent, parties can agree to settle disputes outside of Court by appointing arbitrators. The GOCD allows third parties to be included in arbitration disputes even if they haven’t signed an arbitration agreement if they are a part of the same group of companies and their conduct indicates that they have given implied consent to become a party.

Former CJI N.V. Ramana expressed some misgivings about the GOCD. He feared that this doctrine compromised the principles of party autonomy. Figuring out if a party has given implied consent or is a part of the same group of companies are exercises that require clarifications from a Constitution Bench.  

CJI Chandrachud, as the master of the roster at the SC, hasn’t solely been focusing on clearing pending Constitution Bench cases either. A Bench led by CJI Chandrachud referred the pleas seeking marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench on March 13th, 2022. The case has been listed for hearing on April 18th, 2022, although the Bench will be occupied with another pending Constitution Bench case after the GOCD hearings have concluded. It is possible that the Court will not finish hearing the same-sex marriage plea before the Court breaks for summer vacation on May 22nd.

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