Senior advocate and former law minister Shanti Bhushan on Friday approached the Supreme Court challenging the power of the Chief Justice of India as the “master of roster” to allocate work to different benches of the court. “The petitioner humbly submits that ‘master of roster’ cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select Judges or by assigning cases to particular Judges. Any such power or its exercise would result in a subversion of democracy and the Rule of Law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution,” the petition, filed through his son and advocate Prashant Bhushan, said.
It added that “the authority of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India as master of roster is not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in the Chief Justice alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion” and that “such authority vested in the Chief Justice of India must necessarily be exercised by him in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncements of this Hon’ble Court”. The development comes two months after an unprecedented press conference by four senior apex court judges — J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — wherein they raised questions on the allotment of cases by CJI Dipak Misra.
Since the petition has impleaded the CJI as one of the parties, Prashant Bhushan also wrote to the secretary general of the apex court praying that the matter not be listed before a bench comprising the CJI, but before three seniormost judges of the top court who would decide the bench that should hear it.
The petition sought a direction that listing of matters in the apex court should strictly adhere to the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and Handbook on Practice and Procedure and Office Procedure. It also wanted the court to clarify that the expression “Chief Justice of India” must be “deemed to mean a Collegium of five senior judges” of the court. It sought limiting of the discretion of the CJI in allocating cases in the absence of any procedure or rules to prevent conflict, saying these issues must be addressed for improved administrative management of the court.
The plea said the Registry and CJI appeared to be “clearly interfering” with listing of matters, “particularly politically sensitive matters”, and cited instances to buttress its charge. “The pattern suggests that certain matters which are politically sensitive and involve either ruling party leaders and/or opposition party leaders are assigned only to certain benches,” it said.