New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine a plea on whether the allocation of “sensitive and important cases” should be done by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) alone or by the collegium of five senior-most judges.
Asking Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to assist the court in hearing of the matter, a bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan asked: “CJI is the master of roster, should we interpret it to mean collegium… would it be feasible?”
Observing that nearly one lakh cases come to the top court every year, Justice Sikri wondered if the collegium will sit for each and every case.
“Prima facie, it’s not a workable solution because that would mean the five judges would be required to sit every day or twice a week to allocate cases,” said the bench, adding that there should be a “self-governing mechanism”.
The observation came in the course of the hearing of the plea by former Law Minister and senior counsel Shanti Bhuhan, seeking that the allocation of important and sensitive cases be done by the collegium of five senior-most judges and not by the CJI alone.
When senior advocate Dushyant Dave said “sensitive cases” like those which directly touch upon the very “survival of democracy” should not be left to the discretion of the CJI, the court told him: “What is sensitive for you may not be sensitive for another.”
Appearing for Shanti Bhushan, senior advocates Dave, Kapil Sibal and Prashant Bhushan said instances of arbitrary allocation of cases by CJI Dipak Misra has forced them to come with a “heavy heart” to the court.
The lawyers said their purpose was not to make personal allegations, adding: “Our concern is when Supreme Court Registry takes direction from the CJI for marking the case… Power should be used correctly.”
Sibal said they were “troubled” and this is the highest court of law and “we must respect the institution”. “It’s not good for the institution.”
Justice Sikri said “you are aggrieved by the manner of exercise of power by the CJI”. “But the collegium does not seem to be the solution, because collegium will then have to sit every other day. If you can come up with some other suggestion, maybe we could consider.”
He also referred to its recent verdicts, saying it has already held that the CJI is the “master of roster”. On Wednesday, CJI Misra’s bench dismissed a PIL seeking framing of rules for regulating the setting up of benches and allocation of cases.
On Friday, the bench posted the matter for further hearing on April 27.
In his plea, Bhushan said the authority of the Chief Justice as a master of roster was not an “absolute, arbitrary, singular power” which may be exercised in his “sole discretion” and the CJI must exercise his authority in consultation with other senior judges who are also part of the collegium.
The collective opinion of a collegium was much safer than the opinion of the Chief Justice alone, it said.
The plea contended that the master of roster “cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the … Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges”.
Any such power or its exercise, the PIL said “would result in a subversion of democracy and the rule of law as guaranteed under Constitution’s Article 14”.
Pointing to “extremely disturbing trend” of listing matters “subjectively and selectively” only before certain benches, the PIL said the trend reflects “serious erosion of independence of the judiciary” by resorting to the method of “favoured listings”.
“As a result, justice appears to be skewed and in many cases justice may even stand denied.”
Recounting the cases that came up before certain benches of the top court in recent months, the plea said the “pattern also 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”.
Though the listing of politically sensitive matters appears to be “routine”, they seem designed in a particular direction to exclude other benches from hearing them, it said.