Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal on Friday differed with a plea by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan to have a collegium of Supreme Court judges collectively allocate cases in the court rather than leave the entire power in the hands of the Chief Justice of India in his administrative capacity as “master of roster”.
Mr. Venugopal said having a collegium to allocate cases among judges would invite chaos.
Unlike a collegium to recommend new judges, a collegium to allocate cases would mean judges deciding for themselves which cases they should hear. Better have the CJI decide for all as master of roster, Mr. Venugopal said in his submissions.
Justice Sikri said the allocation of cases was not always done on the initiative of the Chief Justice. At times, the judges themselves “express anguish as to why ‘I was not given this or that matter.’”
Mr. Venugopal, at this point, recalled how one of the major grievances of the controversial former Calcutta High Court judge, C.S. Karnan, was that he was not given bail matters.
Justice Ashok Bhushan said there may be difficulties in having a collegium to allocate cases, but the Supreme Court’s primary concern would be whether the Constitution intended it.
The court said the plea should be tested on the touchstone of Article 145 (Rules of the court governing its practices and procedures) of the Constitution. “Difficulties can always be resolved. We have to see what the Constitution has in mind,” Justice Ashok Bhushan said.
The court reserved Mr. Shanti Bhushan’s plea for final orders.
The Supreme Court had earlier agreed to examine a petition filed by Mr. Shanti Bhushan to declare that the authority of the Chief Justice of India as ‘master of roster’ should not be reduced to an absolute, singular and arbitrary power.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan had asked the Attorney-General to assist the court.
The Bench had decided to hear the petition despite two separate judgments by the Supreme Court in November 2017 and April 9, 2018 upholding the Chief Justice of India’s complete administrative authority to allocate cases and constitute Benches. Both judgments were pronounced by Benches led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
The April 9 verdict called the CJI an “institution in himself”.
In his petition, Mr. Bhushan has said such “absolute discretion” cannot be confined in just one man, the Chief Justice of India. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for Mr. Bhushan, referred to the judges case of 1998 to argue that the Supreme Court itself had interpreted the term ‘Chief Justice of India’ to collectively mean the CJI and his four senior-most judges.