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The Last Straw: What Triggered Historic 'Rebellion' by Four Supreme Court Judges

All four had met Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra with a question about the assignment of two PILs on Special CBI Judge BH Loya's death to court No.10, which is headed by Justice Arun Mishra.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:January 13, 2018, 11:49 AM IST
New Delhi: It was an argument early in the morning around 10 am which convinced the four most senior judges in the Supreme Court to go to the people's court.

All four had met Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra with a question about the assignment of two PILs on Special CBI Judge BH Loya's death to court No.10, which is headed by Justice Arun Mishra.

Loya was trying the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter killing case. He apparently suffered a cardiac arrest and breathed his last in December 2014 but the family later alleged foul play and said the judge was under pressure.

On Friday morning, Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph confronted the CJI as to why such an important matter relating to death of a judicial officer was sent to court No.10, bypassing eight senior judges and benches.

They questioned whether it wouldn't reflect badly on the system as well as the competence of the other judges when the CJI sends an "important case" to a "handpicked" bench.

According to the sources, Justice Misra replied that the case has already been assigned by him to court No.10 in administrative authority and that he saw nothing wrong with his administrative order.

Upset, the four judges expressed their strong objection to the CJI, saying all this would set a wrong precedent and that the institution will suffer. The CJI, however, retorted that he was acting as per the established principles of the allocation of cases.

The four judges also recalled that they had been making requests to the CJI for months now to make the allocation of cases more suitable and proper, apart from making the system more transparent but to no avail.

However, the CJI referred to a Constitution Bench judgment, which had made it clear that he, as the “master of the roster”, could assign cases to “appropriate” benches as per his discretion. Justice Misra refused to accede to their request.

As their request was unheeded, the four judges had a brief discussion among themselves and then a decision was taken to go public with their views.

Sources said this was the last straw, and even the Justice Gogoi, who is the next in line to become the Chief Justice of India after Justice Misra demits office on October 3 and had been reluctant so far to address the media, as per the sources, decided to join the ranks.

What the law says about allocation of cases:

According to a Constitution Bench ruling, delivered by a bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra in November, the CJI has an exclusive discretion to decide where to send a case. The judgment said that even in cases where the CJI may have a conflict of interest, it is only he who, by virtue of his constitutional post, has the authority to allocate cases among the judges in the court.

But this judgment had come amid a controversy over a medical college bribery case, in which CBI had alleged that a retired judge, along with others, had obtained a bribe to fix cases pending in the apex court.

One of these cases was heard by a bench led by CJI Dipak Misra and thus two PILs were mentioned before Justice J Chelameswar, who was hearing the cases for urgent listing since the CJI was sitting in a Constitution Bench.

When Justice Chelameswar heard one of these PILs, he was told by the petitioner’s lawyers that since the case pertaining to this medical college was heard by the CJI-bench, Justice Misra should not deal with this case either on the administrative side or the judicial side.

Justice Chelameswar fixed the matter for an urgent hearing and then ordered for the constitution of a bench comprising five most senior judges in the court since the issue pertained to the judiciary.

However, three hours later, a hurriedly constituted five-judge Constitution Bench overruled Justice Chelameswar’s order and said it is only for the CJI to decide how and which bench will hear a case.

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| Edited by: Tarun Bhardwaj
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