Supreme Court to examine plea on CJI's power to allocate cases

CJI has authority to decide allocation of cases, rules SC

In his PIL, Shanti Bhushan has stated that the "master of roster" can not be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine a petition seeking to regulate the Chief Justice of India's (CJI) administrative discretionary power to constitute benches and allocate important cases.

Rejecting a plea for guidelines on the setting up of benches and allocation of work to judges, the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also said there can not be a "presumption of mistrust" against the CJI.

"Today, Prashant Bhushan (senior advocate who had moved Shanti Bhushan's plea) mentioned his petition before Justice J. Chelameswar (one of the four rebel judges) but he declined to deal with the matter because he doesn't want the institution to be further embarrassed", Sibal said.

When the bench referred to the top court verdicts which held that the CJI is the "master of roster", Mr Dave said a judgement passed earlier this week was in his favour. We are not going into it.

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"We are very, very concerned about what is happening in court and we believe that the option that is available to us is still open", Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said when asked about the party's stand on the issue.

Justice Kurian recalled how a Full Court made a decision to set up the Bench of seven seniormost judges to suo motu initiate contempt against controversial former Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan.

"If we go by your argument, then five judges have to sit every day to list cases". But eyebrows have been raised over the CJI himself hearing the matter relating to his official powers when ideally speaking it ought to have gone to a different bench, not allocated by him. "Some cases may appear sensitive to you, others may feel something else is sensitive". Justice Sikri pointed out that it was for the goal of appointment and transfer and has nothing to do with the CJI's administrative power in allocation of cases.

Justice Kurian said the lack of response from the government on the appointment of Ms. Malhotra and Justice Joseph had virtually stalled the working of the collegium. Failure to discharge their duty by sitting over on the recommendations of the Collegium doing nothing, in administrative law, is abuse of power. Justice Sikri continued that "all that we are saying is whether this is justiciable at all".

It said that such an authority should be exercised by the CJI in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncements of the court. "If it can not be done administratively or judicially, then this will be the only provision in the Constitution which can not be challenged", he said, adding "it is unacceptable". It is settled law that CJI is the "master of roster", Justice Sikri added.