Supreme Court: Allocation of cases is CJI’s prerogative
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a high constitutional office entrusted with the duty to constitute Benches and allocate cases for the smooth dispensation of justice by the Supreme Court, the court held in a judgment on Wednesday while dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Asok Pande for a transparent and codified procedure for constitution of Benches and allocation of cases in the court.
The office of the CJI is an institution in itself, the judgment by a Bench, also comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.M. Khanwilkar, observed.
Pronouncing the judgment on behalf of the Bench, Justice Chandrachud said, “There cannot be a presumption of distrust against the Chief Justice of India in his exclusive prerogative, granted by the Constitution, to set up Benches and allocate cases to judges.”
This is the second time the court has declared the CJI as the master of roster. On both occasions, Chief Justice Misra headed the Benches. This time, the court said the question should be put to rest finally with Wednesday’s judgment.
Mr. Pande’s petition came up for hearing almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s number two judge, Justice Jasti Chelameswar, attacked the Chief Justice of India’s discretionary powers to constitute Benches and allocate cases.
A Bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud dismissed a PIL plea seeking framing of guidelines for allocation of cases
“Unfettered power is being exercised by the Chief Justices in the matter of formation of Benches, and so, the same is liable to be regulated through specific Rules,” the petition contended.
It said specific provisions should be incorporated in the Supreme Court Rules of 2013 that the three-judge Bench in the Chief Justice of India’s court should consist only of the Chief Justice of India and the court’s two senior-most judges. That is, in the present scenario, Chief Justice Misra and Justices Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi.
The petition demanded that the Constitution Bench of the court should consist of the five senior most judges — the CJI, Justices Chelameswar, Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — or a combination of the three senior-most and two junior-most judges. That would be the CJI, Justices Chelameswar and Gogoi followed by Justices Navin Sinha and Deepak Gupta.
Justices Chelameswar and Gogoi – who is the next in line as CJI under the seniority norm, Lokur and Kurian, at a press conference held on January 12, accused the recent trend of CJIs selectively allocating cases to preferred Benches.
“Subject-wise roster” of cases
Subsequently, Chief Justice Misra published a “subject-wise roster” of cases to be handled by the Supreme Court judges. However, the roster did not ease criticism. As proof, Justice Chelameswar, responding to a question why all the important cases continue to be heard by Chief Justice Misra, responded rather drily: “He is the master of roster… If he [CJI Misra] has the energy to do the entire work, let him do it”.
Mr. Pande’s petition follows an earlier petition filed by former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan for a declaration that the authority of the CJI as ‘master of roster’ should not be reduced to an absolute, singular and arbitrary power.
Mr. Bhushan had specifically asked the Supreme Court Registry not to place his petition before a Bench of which Chief Justice Misra is a part of.
–NEW DELHI, APRIL 11, 2018