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India
06 Jul 2018

CJI 'master of roster,' consultation with collegium not necessary: SC

CJI is the master of roster, SC iterates

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the master of roster, a two-judge SC bench iterated, dismissing a petition by former law minister Shanti Bhushan.

Bhushan had argued that concentration of case allocation powers in the CJI's hands was unconstitutional, so the collegium should be involved too.

But the bench noted that the role of 'master of roster' aims "to maintain discipline and decorum."

In context

CJI is the master of roster, SC iterates
The current rules governing allocation, and their problems

Rules

The current rules governing allocation, and their problems

By rule, the CJI, currently Dipak Misra, is empowered to decide the allocation of cases in the SC.

The issue gained attention when the four top judges of the SC (excluding Misra) addressed a historic press conference in January, accusing the CJI of unauthorized use of his power.

One key accusation was that Misra arbitrarily assigned cases to benches of his choice without reason.

Trigger

Allegations triggered after CJI overturned another judge's order

The trigger of the conference lay in a 2017 case, when a petition by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) raised bribery allegations in a case heard by a Misra-led bench.

Retd Justice Jasti Chelameswar listed the petition for hearing by a five-judge bench excluding Misra, as allegations involved him.

But the next day, a constitution bench led by Misra overturned Chelameswar's order.

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Bhushan cites CJAR case to protest 'unbridled concentration of power'

Petition

Bhushan cites CJAR case to protest 'unbridled concentration of power'

Citing the CJAR case, Bhushan argued in his petition that case allocation should be decided not by the CJI alone, but by a collegium of five senior colleges.

Unbridled and unguided concentration of power in one single authority violated democratic principles, especially when there were several reported cases when it was abused with legal malice, he said.

Verdict

'Acceptance of petition would cause practical difficulties'

Rejecting his contentions, Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ruled that "although the Constitution is silent on the role of CJI as the master of roster, it is based on healthy practice to maintain discipline and decorum of the court."

Justice Sikri also noted that accepting Shanti Bhushan's petition would have practical ramifications, and would likely hinder day-to-day functioning of the court.

SC takes steps to address concerns, announces new roster system

Changes

SC takes steps to address concerns, announces new roster system

Bhushan's was the second recent petition in this matter. Earlier, Lucknow resident Ashok Pande had filed one, seeking a transparent procedure for case allotment.

It was dismissed in April.

However, the SC has taken some measures to address concerns. In February, days after the press conference, it made public a new roster system: cases are now allotted to judges based on subject matter.

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