Shanti Bhushan files PIL challenging CJI's authority as master of roster

NEW DELHI, DHNS: Senior advocate and former law minister Shanti Bhushan on Friday filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the administrative authority of the Chief Justice of India(CJI) as the 'master of roster'.

He also sought laying down of principles and procedures to be followed in preparing the roster for allocation of cases to benches.

Following a PIL by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms for a CBI probe into the medical college bribery case, a five-judge bench presided over by CJI Dipak Misra had on November 11 declared, "The CJI is the master of roster, though on judicial side, he is first among equals. No judge can hear a matter unless assigned by the CJI."

Bhushan, in his plea, stated the "master of roster" cannot have unguided and unbridled discretionary powers, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges.

The PIL said the CJI's authority as the master of roster is "not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in CJI alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion" and such an authority should be exercised by him in consultation with senior judges.

He filed the PIL through his son and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who also wrote a letter to the apex court's secretary general stating that the matter should not be listed before a bench that includes CJI Dipak Misra.

The letter also said that it would be appropriate that the plea be listed before three senior-most judges of the top court for allocating it before an appropriate bench.

In the petition, the CJI has been named as one of the respondents along with the registrar of the top court.

This petition assumes significance as on January 12 four senior-most judges- J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph- of the Supreme Court had called an unprecedented press conference.

They claimed important and sensitive PILs were being assigned to "junior judges".

In the PIL, Bhushan sought to replace the CJI with the Collegium of five senior-most judges in allocating cases as "extremely disturbing trend of listing matters subjectively and selectively" was seen, reflecting "serious erosion of independence of the judiciary".

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