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Supreme Court: Dismissing the petition seeking drafting of set Procedure for constituting the benches and allotment of jurisdiction to different benches in Supreme Court, the 3-judge Bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ held that there cannot be a presumption of mistrust against the Chief Justice of India. The Bench held that in the allocation of cases and the constitution of benches the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative. The authority which is conferred upon the Chief Justice is vested in a high constitutional functionary and is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the Court. The Court said:

“In his capacity as a Judge, the Chief Justice is primus inter pares: the first among equals.”

The order that was penned by Chandrachud, J also stated that the writ of mandamus filed by the petitioner was manifestly misconceived as it is a well settled principle that no mandamus can issue to direct a body or authority which is vested with a rule making power to make rules or to make them in a particular manner. The Supreme Court has been authorised under Article 145 to frame rules of procedure.

Regarding the contention that certain categories of cases or certain courts must consist only of the senior-most in terms of appointment, the Bench held that every Judge appointed to this Court under Article 124 of the Constitution is invested with the equal duty of adjudicating cases which come to the Court and are assigned by the Chief Justice. Seniority in terms of appointment has no bearing on which cases a Judge should hear. It was held:

“To suggest that any Judge would be more capable of deciding particular cases or that certain categories of cases should be assigned only to the senior-most among the Judges of the Supreme Court has no foundation in principle or precedent. To hold otherwise would be to cast a reflection on the competence and ability of other judges to deal with all cases assigned by the Chief Justice notwithstanding the fact that they have fulfilled the qualifications mandated by the Constitution for appointment to the office.”

Regarding allocation of cases in the High Courts, the Court explained:

“The High Courts periodically publish a roster of work under the authority of the Chief Justice. The roster indicates the constitution of Benches, Division and Single. The roster will indicate the subject matter of the cases assigned to each bench. Different High Courts have their own traditions in regard to the period for which the published roster will continue, until a fresh roster is notified. Individual judges have their own strengths in terms of specialisation. The Chief Justice of the High Court has to bear in mind the area of specialisation of each judge, while deciding upon the allocation of work. However, specialisation is one of several aspects which weigh with the Chief Justice.”

Noticing that the averments which have been made by the petitioner, an advocate, were scandalous, the Court asked the petitioner to be more responsible for the manner in which he seeks to draft pleadings in future filings. [Asok Pandey v. Supreme Court of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 361, decided on 11.04.2018]

To read the details of another petition filed on similar lines by former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan and the timeline of events that led to the filing of the said petition, click here.

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Former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan has filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the power of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to assign cases to Benches. In his petition, he has said that CJI’s authority as ‘master of roster’ should not be absolute, singular and arbitrary and hence, the allocation of cases to the Benches should not be done by the CJI but by the Collegium. He said:

“the collective opinion of a collegium of senior judges is much safer than the opinion of the Chief Justice alone.”

In the petition in which CJI Dipak Misra has been named as a party, Shanti Bhushan has sought clarification on the administrative authority of the CJI as the master of roster and for the laying down of the procedure and principles to be followed in preparing the roster for allocation of cases. The petition says:

“Master of roster cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select Judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.”

The said petition has been filed in the light of the recent crisis that the Indian Judiciary is going through. Below is the timeline of events that led to the filing of this petition:

  • A petition is filed by Advocate Kamini Jaiswal alleging that attempts were made to bribe some Supreme Court judges, including CJI Dipak MIsra, in the matters relating to Medical admission scam.
  • Bench of J Chelameswar and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ directs that the matter be heard by the Constitution Bench of the first five Judges of the Supreme Court.
  • A 7-judge bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra, recalls the 2-judge Bench order calling for constitution of a Constitution Bench of the first five judges of the Supreme Court. CJI assigns the Medical Scam case filed by Kamini Jaiswal to a 3-judge Bench of 3-judge bench of RK Agrawal, Arun Mishra and AM Khanwilkar, JJ. Sikri and Bhushan, JJ later recused themselves from the matter and the Bench of remaining 5-judge held:

“There can be no doubt that the Chief Justice of India is the first amongst the equals, but definitely, he exercises certain administrative powers.”

“The convention of recognizing the privilege of the Chief Justice to form the roster and assign cases to different members/benches of the Court is a convention devised for a disciplined and efficient transaction of the business of the Court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues.”

(With inputs from The Hindu)