The Supreme Court rejected Former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan’s plea that the Collegium should allocate cases, not the CJI.

SC reiterates that CJI is Master of Roster has authority to assign cases
news Law Friday, July 06, 2018 - 11:43

The Supreme Court once again said on Friday that the Chief Justice of India was the Master of Roster and has the power to allocate cases to different benches of the apex court. This came as it rejected former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan’s plea challenging the powers of the CJI.

Bhushan’s plea had asked that the SC Collegium, a panel of senior judges, decide on the roster and assign cases to various benches. In his plea, the former Minister had pointed out that the CJI should be the first among equals, and therefore, could not be tasked with the roster.

Previously, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal had objected to this, saying that giving the Collegium the task of rostering would result in chaos.

In his petition, Shanti Bhushan had also submitted that the Master of Roster cannot enjoy “unguided and unbridled” discretionary power, exercised randomly by the CJI, who got to select which judge sat on which bench and assign cases to judges.

Senior counsels Dushyant Dave and Prashant Bhushan, arguing on behalf of Shanti Bhushan, had questioned how the CJI allocated “sensitive” cases.    

During the arguments, Venugopal had said that it was important for unity among judges of the Supreme Court and that if the Collegium were to allocate cases, it might lead to a conflict. "It is essential that there should be one person doing this and if it has to be one person, then it has to be the CJI," the Attorney General had told the bench.

The two-Judge bench, comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, hearing the petition ruled that while the CJI is the first among equals and while the Constitution was silent on the role of the CJI, the powers enjoyed by him are based on sound convention and precedence.

The petition assumed significance as it came after an unprecedented rebellion in the Supreme Court, where four sitting judges – Justice J Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Kurian Joseph, and Justice Madan Lokur – called a press conference, where they announced that the administration of the Supreme Court was not in order.

Here, they released an undated letter they wrote to CJI Dipak Misra.

In the letter, the judges criticised the behaviour of the CJI, especially with respect to the way the roster was maintained and the manner in which cases are assigned to the benches.

“It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the Chief Justice is only the first among the equals – nothing more or nothing less. In the matter of the determination of the roster there are well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be the conventions dealing with the strength of the bench which is required to deal with the particular case or the composition thereof,” the letter said.

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