The Supreme Court on Friday reiterated that the chief justice of India is the “Master of the Roster”. The chief justice has the power to allocate cases to different benches, a bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ruled while hearing a petition filed by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan.
The court said that the “chief justice of India” cannot be interpreted to mean “collegium of five senior-most judges” for the allocation of cases, Bar and Bench reported. The court also said, right at the beginning, that it was not treating the petition as an “adversarial litigation” or “doubting the bonafides” of the petitioner.
The Supreme Court has reiterated this position for the third time in eight months, according to Bar and Bench.
On April 27, the Supreme Court had reserved its judgement on the petition. Attorney General KK Venugopal had opposed the petition and told the judges that only the chief justice should allocate cases. “This is not an exercise that can be taken by multiplicity of persons,” he said, reasoning that if many people are involved in the process it may lead to chaos.
In his petition, Shanti Bhushan had said that a collegium of five senior judges should exercise the power to allocate cases, and not only the chief justice of India. “The petition is being filed to clarify the administrative authority of the Honourable Chief Justice of India as the ‘Master of Roster’ and for the laying down of the procedure and principles to be followed in preparing the roster for allocation of cases,” Shanti Bhushan said.
He added: “The petitioner humbly submits that ‘Master of Roster’ cannot 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.” This, he argued, would result in a subversion of democracy and the rule of law.
At a press conference in January, four senior judges of the Supreme Court raised questions, among other things, about Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s role as the “Master of the Roster”. They had questioned the chief justice for allegedly bypassing established traditions of the court while assigning cases to benches.