On Monday, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court may test the law laid down by a five-judge Constitution Bench on November 10 that the Chief Justice of India is the master of the roster and no other judges of the Supreme Court can constitute Benches.
The Bench, led by Justice R.K. Agrawal, is scheduled to hear a petition filed by advocate Kamini Jaiswal for a Special Investigation Team investigation into a medical college corruption case, involving an alleged conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges for a favourable order. A two-judge Bench led by Justice Jasti Chelameswar had on November 9 directed the petition to be heard by a Bench of the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court on November 13.
However, on November 10, a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, in an unprecedented hearing, laid down the principle that “the Chief Justice is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted”.
The Constitution Bench further held that “no Judge can take up the matter on his own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster.”
It declared that “any order passed which is contrary to this order be treated as ineffective in law and not binding on the Chief Justice of India.” The Constitution Bench’s order came on a reference made by a two-judge Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan in a petition filed by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR).
The subject matter of the CJAR petition was also the same medical college bribery case. The pleas made in it were similar to those made by Ms. Jaiswal.
But Ms. Jaiswal’s petition was not listed along with the CJAR petition, which came before the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Misra on November 10.
It was noted that the two-judge Bench of Justices Sikri and Bhushan had followed the correct procedure of referring the CJAR case to the CJI for listing before an appropriate Bench.
So why was the CJAR petition, and not the Jaiswal petition, listed before the Constitution Bench in order to lay down the principle that the CJI is the master of the roster and no other judge can constitute Benches in the Supreme Court?
The November 10 order states that “after perusal of the aforesaid order (Justice Sikri’s order), it was thought appropriate by the Chief Justice of India to constitute a Constitution Bench and, accordingly, the matter has been placed before us.”
Ms. Jaiswal even declined to address the Constitution Bench, saying it was not her case, but that of the CJAR.
The CJAR’s lawyer, advocate Prashant Bhushan, stormed out of the courtroom, complaining that he was not given a chance to address the court.
On Monday, the Bench of Justices Agrawal, Arun Mishra and A.M. Khanwilkar may likely refer to the law laid down by the Chief Misra-led Constitution Bench, and accordingly, decide the fate of the order passed by Justice Chelameswar’s Bench on November 9.