Case BriefsSupreme Court

“It is difficult to accept the prayer of the petitioner that the expression ‘Chief Justice’ appearing in the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 be read as ‘Collegium’ of first five senior most Judges for the purpose of allocating the matters. At the same time, we feel that debate generated as a result has served its purpose.”

Supreme Court: While deciding the writ petition that sought devising of a more transparent system in allocation of cases to Benches in the Apex Court, the Bench comprising of A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, JJ. relied heavily on a 3-Judge Bench decision in Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India, (2018) 5 SCC 341, to hold that “ ‘Chief Justice in his individual capacity is the Master of Roster and it cannot read as Collegium of first three or five Judges. Thus, it is his prerogative to constitute the Benches and allocate the subjects which would be dealt with by the respective Benches“. The petitioner, Shanti Bhushan, Senior Advocate was represented by Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave while K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General of India led the response.

The writ petition was filed seeking the Court to clarify the administrative authority of Chief Justice of India as the Master of Roster and for laying down the procedure and principles to be followed in preparing the Roster for allocation of cases. At the outset, the petition acknowledged the legal principle that CJI is the Master of Roster and has the authority to allocate the cases to different Benches/Judges of the Supreme Court. However, it was contended that this power is not to be used to assert any superior authority by the Chief Justice and the power is to be exercised in a manner that is fair, just and transparent. It was apprehended that keeping in view the predisposition of particular Judges, CJI may assign cases to those Judges to achieve a predetermined outcome. According to the petitioner, there was a need for devising a more rational and transparent system of listing and re-allocation of the matters to avoid any such possibilities. As per the petitioner, the matters need to be listed by strictly following the provisions of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 which empower the Chief Justice to allocate certain cases exercising his discretionary powers. The petitioner submitted that in order to ensure that such a discretion is exercised in a fair manner, the expression ‘Chief  Justice’ should be interpreted to mean ‘Collegium’ of first 5 Judges of the Supreme Court, as held by this Court in Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association v. Union of India, (1993) 4 SCC 441.

The Supreme Court after a meticulous consideration of all the submissions made on behalf of the petitioner and perusal of various rules and the law including binding precedents, held that “the two most obvious functions of the ‘Chief Justice’ are to exercise judicial power as a Judge of the Court on equal footing as others, being ‘among equals’ and to assume responsibility of the administration of the Court”. The observations and opinions of the Hon’ble Judges that gave a unanimous decision, while delivering separate opinions, are summarized hereinafter:

  • Chief Justice of India is the Master of Roster for allocation of cases to Benches of the Supreme Court.
  • The term “Chief Justice” appearing in Supreme Court Rules, 2013 cannot be read as “Collegium” of 5 senior most Judges for the purpose of allocation of matters.
  • The matters need to be listed and assigned to the Benches in accordance with the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and the Handbook of Practice and Procedure.
  • There is no harm in adopting healthy practices in foreign Judicial systems. “Reforms in the administration of Justice is a continuing process. We all learn from experiences and strive to do better”.
  • Rules framed under Article 145 of the Constitution specifically empower the Chief Justice to nominate Benches for hearing cases or appeal. Non-containing of any specific provision in the Constitution empowering the Chief Justice to frame the roster to allocate the cases is inconsequential since the entire subject was to be covered by rules made under Article 145.

The Court found fortification of its views mentioned hereinabove in the recent Constitution Bench Judgment in Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Supreme Court of India,(2018) 1 SCC 196and the 3 Judge-Bench decision in Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India, (2018) 5 SCC 341. The petition was accordingly disposed of with the above-mentioned observations.[Shanti Bhushan v. Supreme Court of India, (2018) 8 SCC 396, decided on 06-07-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

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)