Master of roster not CJI's arbitrary power: Shanti Bhushan to Supreme Court

Henrietta Strickland
April 7, 2018

A five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice nullified the order while ruling the CJI alone was empowered to decide distribution of cases and benches' composition and no one else.

Senior advocate and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan on Friday filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the administrative authority of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) as the master of roster and for laying down the principles and procedure to be followed in preparing it for allocation of cases. "The petitioner humbly submits that "master of roster" can not be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the Honourable Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges".

Interestingly, recognising that as per the published roster for allocation of judicial work, a PIL would be listed for hearing before the CJI, Prashant Bhushan wrote a letter to the SC secretary general on April 3 to argue that his plea be listed before the three seniormost judges (Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan B Lokur).

Significantly, the Bhushans have asked that the case not be heard by incumbent Dipak Misra as he had previous year set up and headed the Constitution bench that declared the CJI's "master of roster" powers could not be questioned.

Apart from setting up a constitution bench to reiterate the powers of the master of the roster, Misra had issued an administrative order that fresh mentioning of cases (request to list them) would only be allowed before the CJI.

The issue related to allegations that the college authorities wanted to bribe Supreme Court judges. The prayer was necessary since the CJI is supposed to hear all PILs as per the present roster, Prashant said.

The senior advocate has stated that the "master of roster" can not be unguided and or have unbridled discretionary power that is exercised arbitrarily by the Chief Justice when it comes to picking judges for a bench or assigning cases to a judge.

In January, Supreme Court's senior-most four judges had held a press conference, openly criticising the working of country's top court under the current Chief Justice. "Any such power or its exercise would result in a subversion of democracy and the Rule of Law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution", the petition, filed through his son and advocate Prashant Bhushan, said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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