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Abstract

In this J.S.D. dissertation, I undertake a critical exploration of the causes and consequences of the Indian Supreme Court’s docket crisis. My effort is to articulate an explanation for the manner in which the Court’s docket has continued to expand over time, stretching the Court’s capacity to a breaking point. While acknowledging that many complex and interconnected factors are at play, I argue in Chapter I that one overarching factor is the willingness of Supreme Court judges to play - at least sporadically - an error-correction role that is not doctrinally mandated. I argue further that the Court’s conception of its own capacity is not only expansive, but unrealistically so. While often understandable in the particular historical circumstances of the Court, this routine error-correction role has nonetheless been profoundly counter-productive. In Chapter II, I examine the question through a comparative lens, by undertaking an examination of the US Supreme Court and considering why that Court approaches its discretionary docket so very differently. I conclude that the very different institutional culture in the two Courts is a driving factor for their divergent approaches to their respective dockets. In Chapter III, I approach the question in light of broader trends - which I describe as interventionism and ad hocism - within India’s polity (and, more specifically, the higher judiciary). In this backdrop, I undertake an analysis of doctrinal inconsistency across varied areas of the law within the Indian Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, and also explore how such inconsistency has ripple effects across the higher judiciary. In light of the nature and dynamics of the docket crisis facing the Indian Supreme Court, the concluding section of the dissertation critically evaluates varied proposals for structural and institutional reform. I conclude that radical structural reform - in particular, the creation of an intermediate Court of Appeal between the High Courts and the Supreme Court - is likely to only exacerbate the underlying causes of the docket crisis. Inspite of the serious and chronic nature of the problem, therefore, incremental reform presents the best path forward. I conclude by advancing a proposal that has been made at different points in the past - that of division of the Court into constitutional and appellate wings - and explaining why this is likely to meaningfully address the most serious problems identified in this thesis.

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