Supreme Court Rules, Chief Justice Is The ‘Master Of The Roster’

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The Supreme Court of India reaffirmed on Friday declining to accept former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan’s suggestion that CJI consults his collegium colleagues –the top four judges after him in seniority –in allocating cases to various benches. This has clearly indicated that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “master of the roster”.

Describing the CJI as “first among equals,” a bench of justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said although the constitution was silent on the CJI’s role as the master of the roster, his power was based on a healthy practice and “convention aimed at maintaining discipline and decorum.” The judges wrote separate but concurring verdicts.

The bench also lamented the “erosion of credibility of judiciary,” calling it the “greatest threat” to the institution. “What is required of judges is changing. Judges walk the tight rope of independence,” read the order.

Friday’s judgment reiterates the legal position on the controversial issue that hit the headlines in November last year after a bench led by justice J Chelameswar ordered the listing of public interest litigation (PIL) related to a medical admission scam before a bench of the top five judges. On the same day, CJI DipakMisra set up a constitution bench of five judges to declare that only the CJI could mark matters to various benches, setting aside Justice Chelameswar’s order.

On January 12, justices Chelameswar, RanjanGogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph addressed the media airing their grievances over the manner of allocation of cases by the CJI. Later, in a memorandum to the CJI, the four said that a committee of judges should allocate sensitive cases. Their stand was similar to what Bhushan pleaded before the court. In April 2018, again, a bench headed by CJI Misra upheld the authority of the CJI as the master of the roster to allocate cases and constitute benches.

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