On Tuesday, the Supreme Court (SC) of India referred a case related to framing the uniform rules around capital punishment to a constitution bench. The SC stated that it is necessary owing to differences in various judgements on the issue of the validity of the death penalty.
What is a constitution bench?
A constitution bench is a bench consisting of five or more judges of the Supreme Court that is set up to decide a case based on the interpretation of the Constitution. In India, these benches are temporary and are dissolved once a legal question or issue is resolved.
Generally, cases are heard by a bench with two or three judges, called a division bench.
Who can constitute a constitution bench?
The constitution bench can be appointed by the Chief Justice of India. In the case related to the validity of capital punishment, the constitution bench has been proposed by CJI UU Lalit.
When is a constitution bench formed?
Article 143 of the Indian Constitution defines the conditions in which a constitution bench can be formed.
Currently, there are four situations when such a bench can be formed. First, if a case involves a “substantial question of law” related to the interpretation of the Constitution.
Second, a bench can be formed if the President seeks SC’s opinion on law or fact. In this case, however, the apex court’s decision is not binding on the President, and they can take a different point of view.
Third, a constitution bench can be formed when a two-judge bench and later a three-judge bench deliver conflicting judgements on the same issue.
Lastly, it can be formed if a three-judge bench delivers a judgement that is different from the judgement delivered by a previous three-judge bench on an issue.
Largely, the constitution bench gives an overarching view on a question of law and defines a path the law will take in the future.
In India, DY Chandrachud has been a part of 21 constitution benches, the highest in the country. He is followed by Justices AM Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan with 15 and 10 benches, respectively.