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Chief Justice has no 'unfettered' powers: SC

Chief Justice has no 'unfettered' powers: SC

In a democracy where the rule of law prevails, even the prerogative power is subject to judicial review, it said.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled no government or authority, including the "Chief Justice", has any "unfettered discretion" or "unaccountable action" and any such exercise is subject to judicial review.

A bench of justices RV Raveendran and Markandeya Katju held that in a democracy where the rule of law prevails, even the prerogative power is subject to judicial review.

"At the outset, we may note that in a democracy, governed by rule of law, where arbitrariness in any form is eschewed, no government or authority has the right to do whatever it pleases.

"Where rule of law prevails, there is nothing like unfettered discretion or unaccountable action. Even prerogative power is subject to judicial review, but to a very limited extent," Justice Raveendran, writing the judgement, said.

The apex court passed the ruling while upholding an appeal filed by West Bengal government challenging a decision of the Calcutta High Court Chief Justice to grant additional pay benefits to about 50 employees of the high court even though the government rules did not permit them.

The Chief Justice had passed the said order in 2003 after a three-judge committee suggested the increased pay structure as one Gopinath Dey, a junior lower division clerk, was erroneously given higher pay over the other employees. The idea behind the decision was to rectify the anomaly.

When the government's Pay & Accounts Department raised objection, a single judge of the high court set aside the Chief Justice's administrative order. However, a division bench quashed the single judge's order and ruled that the Chief Justice's power was equivalent to that of the State Governor and hence not subject to judicial review.

Aggrieved, the State had appealed in the apex court.

Rejecting the high court's view, the apex court said the extent, depth and intensity of judicial review may depend on the subject matter involved.

"The fact that in regard to certain types of action or orders of Chief Justice, the scope of judicial review may be very narrow and limited is different from saying that an order of the Chief Justice granting certain relief to High Court employees whose service conditions are governed by rules, is not justiciable. Such orders are justiciable.

"It is, therefore, clear that the Chief Justice has the power and authority to grant premature increments in exceptional circumstances. But the Chief Justice cannot grant such relief in an irrational or arbitrary manner. If the rules provide that premature increments could be granted in exceptional circumstances, there should be a reference to the existence of exceptional circumstances and application of mind to those exceptional circumstances," the apex court said.

In the present case, the apex court said neither the recommendation considered by the Chief Justice nor the order of the Chief Justice referred to any exceptional circumstance and did not even refer to the rule relating to grant of relief in exceptional circumstances.

"In view of the above, none of the seniors was entitled to any relief with reference to the pay of their junior Gopinath Dey. We therefore, allow these appeals, set aside the order of the division bench and restore the order of the learned Single Judge," the apex court said.
first published:September 14, 2011, 20:00 IST