CJI has ultimate authority to allocate cases: SC

CJI has ultimate authority to allocate cases: SC

Chief Justice of India Justice Dipak Misra

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Chief Justice of India, as the master of roster, need not consult the collegium of five senior-most judges for allocating cases and setting up benches.

The top court said the chief justice has the "prerogative" and the "ultimate authority" for determining the distribution of judicial work load.

The court acknowledged that the erosion of judiciary's credibility in public mind is the greatest threat to its independence, as even laymen evaluate the outcomes of "hard cases" influenced by emotions, rather than on legal or constitutional principles. It said the working of any system is a continuous process and that the Supreme Court is no exception.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan held that there was no constitutional basis in the contention made by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing former law minister Shanti Bhushan, that the expression 'Chief Justice' is to be read as 'collegium' consisting of five senior-most judges.

"This kind of system (collegium) which is devised for appointment of judges cannot be replicated when it comes to the role of the chief justice as the master of roster," Justice Sikri said in his judgement.

The CJI, as the head of the Supreme Court, and the chief justices of the high courts, have to perform many other functions on administrative side. Framing of roster and constituting benches is one among them, he said.

In a separate and concurring judgement, Justice Bhushan said the conventions and practice of the Supreme Court are time-tested and have ripened with time which need not to be tinkered with or imitated from practices of assigning cases, followed in the United Kingdom Supreme Court, High Court of Australia, Supreme Court of Canada and United States Supreme Court. He pointed out that the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, elaborately dealt with the manner and procedure for transaction of court work.

The top court's judgement comes months after a huge controversy erupted with four senior-most judges addressing a press conference on January 12, questioning allocation of cases of far-reaching and national importance to select benches.

Bhushan, in his PIL, contended that the CJI cannot exercise his power in arbitrary and non-transparent manner.

The court agreed to a submission by Attorney General K K Venugopal that the task of constitution of benches and allocation of specific cases by the collegium would be unworkable and lead to many practical difficulties.

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