The CJI, being the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, is the spokesperson and leader of judiciary.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday reiterated that the Chief Justice of India is the “master of roster” in allocation of cases to different judges and rejected a petitioner’s demand that a “collegium of judges” should take such decisions and echoed concerns raised by four top judges who publicly took on Chief Justice Dipak Misra in January.
A bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, in their separate concurring verdicts, said the CJI occupies the role of “first among equals and is empowered to exercise leadership in administration of court” which includes assignment of cases.
Justice Sikri said, “As far as the role of CJI as master of the roster is concerned, there is no dispute that he is the master of roster and has authority to allocate cases to different benches of the Supreme Court.”
“In case the expression ‘Chief Justice’ is to be interpreted as ‘Collegium’, it would be difficult to have smooth day-to-day functioning of the Supreme Court, or for that matter the high courts. Moreover, when it comes to assigning cases to a particular bench, it has to be undertaken by the Chief Justice on daily basis in contrast with the meetings of the Collegium for the purpose of appointment of judges, which is infrequent. Meeting of the Collegium for the purpose of assigning the cases to a particular bench on daily basis is clearly impracticable,” he said.
A five-judge Constitution Bench and a three-judge bench had earlier held that the Chief Justice is the “master of the roster”.
In a veiled reference to the issues raised by the senior judges in January, the court said, “Erosion of credibility of the judiciary, in the public mind, for whatever reasons, is greatest threat to the independence of the judiciary. At the same time, we feel that debate generated, as a result, has served its purpose.”
Justice Sikri noted that the CJI, being the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, is the “spokesperson and leader of judiciary”.
The apex court disposed of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan who wanted the court to clarify the administrative authority of the CJI as the “master of roster” and for laying down the procedure and principles to be followed in preparing the roster for allocation of cases to apex court judges.
Justice Bhushan said that there are rich conventions and practices of the Supreme Court which are time-tested and should not be tinkered with.
Mr Bhushan had filed the petition following a press conference held by four apex court judges, J. Chelameswar (since retired), Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph faulting CJI Misra in the preparation of roster and allocation of cases.
Rejecting Mr Bhushan’s demand, Justice Sikri said, “It is the Chief Justice who is to nominate the judges who would constitute a bench to hear a case, appeal or matter. Where a reference is made to a larger bench, the bench making the reference is required to refer the matter to the Chief Justice who will constitute the bench.”
Justice Bhushan said, “We are, however, not unconscious of the fact that working of any system is a continuous process and each and every organisation endeavours to improve the working of its system suitable to circumstances and the need. Improvement of functioning is always a goal of every system and all organisations endeavour to improve the system, which is always a welcome step. The Supreme Court cannot be an exception to above objective and goal.”
The four senior judges in January had claimed that the CJI is only the first amongst the equals — nothing more or nothing less. They also alleged that cases having far reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned the chief justices of the apex court selectively to the benches “of their preference”.