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CJI Asserts He is 'Master of Roster', Will Decide Which Case Will Go Where

The order came a day after a two-judge bench, headed by Justice J Chelameswar, had passed a judicial order that a five-judge bench of senior-most judges in the top court shall be constituted to consider an independent probe into a corruption case, in which bribes were allegedly being taken in the name of settling cases pending before the Supreme Court judges.

Utkarsh Anand | News18.com

Updated:November 11, 2017, 12:03 AM IST
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CJI Asserts He is 'Master of Roster', Will Decide Which Case Will Go Where
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New Delhi: In an extraordinary turn of events implying an unprecedented power tussle in the Supreme Court, the Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, on Friday declared that the CJI is the "master of the roster", having the exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge in the Supreme Court.

No other judge can decide to hear a case by himself nor can he instruct the CJI to set up a particular bench in the top court, ruled the Constitution Bench, adding any deviation from this principle will cause "anarchy and chaos in the administrative dispensation of justice".

The order came a day after a two-judge bench, headed by Justice J Chelameswar, had passed a judicial order that a five-judge bench of senior-most judges in the top court shall be constituted to consider an independent probe into a corruption case, in which bribes were allegedly being taken in the name of settling cases pending before the Supreme Court judges.

Nullifying the order passed by Justice Chelameswar, the larger bench on Friday held that any such order shall be "ineffective" and will not be binding since only the CJI can decide where and how a case is to be listed for hearing.

The Constitution Bench has however also clarified that the two PILs will now be listed afresh before a new bench on orders of the CJI.

"No judge can take up the matter on his own unless allocated by the CJI since he is the master of the roster. Once the CJI is declared to be the master of the roster, a two-judge bench or a three-judge bench cannot allocate the matter to itself or direct for constitution of a larger bench. There cannot be a command or a direction to the CJI...," ruled the Bench, also comprising Justices R K Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar.

Raising the issues of "judicial discipline and decorum," the larger bench maintained that passing a judicial order by any other judge is not "countenanced in law and cannot be allowed".

The Constitution Bench, which kept referring the order passed by Justice Chelameswar-bench, said that if any such order has been passed by any other bench, it will not hold the field anymore
.

The pressing need for a ruling by the five-judge bench on Friday arose in the wake of the developments in the last two days.

NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability had filed the first petition, seeking a special investigation team under supervision of a former CJI to thoroughly probe the case relating to granting recognition to medical colleges since the matter might involve sitting and former judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The plea sought recusal of the CJI, contending the medical admission cases were being heard by his bench in the apex court and that his role might also need to be examined.

When the matter was mentioned before Justice Chelameswar on Wednesday, he said the case will be heard by an appropriate bench and thus the case was listed on Friday. However, a similar PIL with identical prayers in connection with the same allegations was again mentioned by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and Justice Chelameswar allowed a hearing at 12.45 pm.

The bench led by Justice Chelameswar then took up the matter at 12.45 pm and even after he was shown an administrative order during the proceeding that only the CJI could post a matter for hearing before a particular bench, the order was issued for setting up a larger bench "in the interest of the institution and the nation."

When the NGO's PIL came up for hearing before a different bench in the Court on Friday, it simply ordered that this matter should be placed before the CJI for appropriate directions.

Within two hours, the CJI constituted the five-judge bench and issued an authoritative order, annulling the order passed by the bench of Justices Chelameswar and S A Nazeer.

While Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha and senior members of the SC Bar Association regretted the manner in which Justice Chelameswar-bench passed the order, advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the NGO, complained he barely got to speak despite being the petitioner in the case. Ninety minutes into the hearing, Bhushan stormed out of the court room saying since the Bench was not interested in hearing him at all, it could very well pass an order even in his absence.

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| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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