Allocation of cases is CJI’s prerogative, rules Supreme Court

A Bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, dismissed a PIL plea seeking the framing of guidelines for allocation of cases.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:56 pm IST

Published - April 11, 2018 11:39 am IST - New Delhi

 Chief Justice of India Justice Dipak Misra. File

Chief Justice of India Justice Dipak Misra. File

A Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra on Wednesday declared the Chief Justice of India an “institution in himself” with “exclusive prerogative” to constitute Benches and allocate cases.

The three-judge Bench, in a 16-page judgment, held there is no room for any “presumption of mistrust” against the high constitutional functionary, who helms the country's most powerful court.

Second instance

This is the second time that the Supreme Court has, within six months, reiterated the Chief Justice of India’s “exclusive duty and authority” as ‘master of roster’ to constitute Benches and allocate cases.

In November 2017, a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Misra had declared the Chief Justice of India as ‘master of roster.’

Subsequent to this judgment, four judges of the SC — Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held their historic press conference on January 12, revealing how the CJI selectively allocates cases to “preferred Benches.”

The fears expressed in the press conference find no mention in Wednesday’s judgment. Instead, the November 2017 Constitution Bench verdict provided the foundation for dismissing the petition filed by advocate Asok Pande, who highlighted the need for a “set procedure” to constitute Benches and allocate cases in the SC and the HCs.

Mr. Pande’s petition was reserved for orders by CJI Misra’s Bench on April 9. Just two days before that, Justice Chelameswar, during a public discussion, said allocation of cases, if not made transparent, would lead to suspicion. “And suspicion is detrimental to the institution,” he had said.

The judgment dismissed Mr. Pande’s petition as largely “scandalous.” It said Mr. Pande suffers from the “fundamental fallacy” that some cases should be heard by senior most judges. All judges are equal in duty and power. They all speak for the court.

“Seniority in terms of appointment has no bearing on which cases a judge should hear,” the judgment said.

“To suggest that one judge is more capable of deciding particular cases or that certain categories of cases should be assigned only to the senior-most among the judges of the Supreme Court has no foundation in principle or precedent. To hold otherwise would be to cast a reflection on the competence and ability of other judges to deal with cases assigned to them by the Chief Justice,” the judgment said.

It said the Chief Justice of India is only “the first among equals” as a judge, but is sui generis (one of his kind) in other capacities.

Entrustment of such authority in the Chief Justice is necessary for safeguarding the Supreme Court as an “independent safeguard for the preservation of personal liberty”, wrote Justice Chandrachud, who is in line to be the Chief Justice of India.

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