Chief Justice of India master of roster, has authority to allocate cases, says Supreme Court
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is “the master of the roster” and has the authority to allocate cases to different benches of the apex court, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The verdict came on a plea of former law minister Shanti Bhushan challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases in the apex court by the CJI. The advocate had contended in his petition that the “master of the roster” cannot be an “unguided and unbridled” discretionary power that arbitrarily allocates cases to select judges.
Hearing the petition on Friday, the bench comprising justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan declined to entertain Bhushan’s petition calling for the CJI to consult four other top judges before assigning sensitive cases for hearing. It said that the CJI, being the first among equals among Supreme Court judges, has the exclusive duty of allocating cases.
“Although the Constitution is silent on the role of the Chief Justice as ‘master of roster’, it is based on healthy practice to maintain the discipline and decorum of the court,” said Justice Sikri.
Justice Bhushan, in a concurring but separate judgement, asserted that it is difficult to accept the interpretation that the CJI means the entire collegium. “Such an interpretation would make day-to-day functioning difficult,” he said, adding that the apex court has certain time-tested conventions and practices that should not be tinkered with.
Both Justice Sikri and Justice Bhushan rejected the plea that the Supreme Court should adopt some of the practices prevalent in the top courts of other countries. They said there cannot be a “mechanical imitation” or import of practices prevailing in the courts overseas, but admitted that there was scope for improvement—which they said was always happening.
“The erosion of judiciary in the minds of people is greatest threat to judicial system,” said Justice Sikri, adding that the CJI— being the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court—is the “spokesperson and leader of judiciary”.
The bench had reserved its verdict on the matter on April 27. Attorney general KK Venugopal opposed the petition on the grounds that any attempt to delegate the power of allocating cases to other judges would lead to “chaos”.
The petition assumes significance in the light of a January 12 press conference where four senior-most judges of the top court —Justices J Chelameswar (since retd), Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph—said the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less-than-desirable” things have taken place.