Supreme Court to hear plea on allocation of sensitive cases

Supreme Court DH file

Supreme Court DH file

The Supreme Court Friday chose to examine a PIL filed by former law minister Shanti Bhushan challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

As of today, the judges objected to the petitioners raising of the unprecedented January 12 press conference by Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph.

"We are not going to go into it".

He asked Chief Justice Misra to deal with the issue on the judicial side by constituting a bench of seven or more senior most judges of the top court.

Expressing his anguish, Justice Joseph said: "In the Justice C.S. Karnan case (when seven judges passed a judicial order in May 2017). if it was a threat to the dignity of the court, the present one is a threat to the very life and existence of the institution".

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.

"Your lordships say you can not decide this issue on the judicial side and the CJI refuses to do it on the administrative side". It won't be practical to say that five judges should sit and decide allocation of these cases, he said. Dave said an overwhelming majority of cases got routinely allocated to benches as per the roster and only cases involving sensitive matters should be decided by the collegium.

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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. You may recall as has been the practice, it was out decision to send the names in a phased manner so that there may not be any administrative or other difficulty.

As Dave responded in the affirmative, Justice Sikri said: "Prima facie, we don't see that for this, the CJI be treated as Collegium". The judge said, "What you are saying is right as an abstract principle... we have said many times that power of judicial review is has to be exercised for upholding rule of law and for goal of protecting the constitution".

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said they were concerned about the institution and they were not permanent fixtures in Delhi.

In a letter to the CJI, he said it had been over three months since the collegium, of which Justice Kurian is a member, recommended Ms. Malhotra and Justice Joseph and sent the files to the Ministry of Law and Justice. Justice Sikri continued that "all that we are saying is whether this is justiciable at all".

The lawyers said their objective 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". "If it can not be done administratively or judicially, then this will be the only provision in the Constitution which can not be challenged", he said, adding "it is unacceptable".

"As far as CJI being the master of roster is concerned, there is no dispute". He then asked ASG Mehta if he would ask the AG to assist the court.

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