Shanti Bhushan Vs. Supreme Court of India through its Registrar and Another
[Writ Petition (Civil) No. 789 of 2018
arising out of Diary No. 12405 of 2018]
This case is also popularly known as ‘Master of Roster Case’. In this, a senior advocate Shanti Bhushan filed a PIL in Supreme Court of India challenging the power of Chief Justice of India to solely decide the roster and listing of cases before the bench which was alleged to be abused with legal malice.
The facts of the present case were as follows:
- Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan who was also former law minister and an eminent member of society, invoked the writ jurisdiction of Hon’ble Supreme Court under Art. 32 for clarifying the administrative authority of Chief Justice of India to prepare the roster and allocate cases to the bench.
- It had been held in State of Rajasthan v Prakash Chand that Chief Justice of High Court has the authority to decide and allocate cases and shall be the master of roster. This judgement was further applied in case of Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India & Anr (CJAR case) in reference to Chief Justice of India (CJI).
- Hence this had become an accepted principle that CJI has the sole power to act as master of roster and can allocate cases to different benches under his authority.
- It was contended by the petitioner that CJI did not possess this power according to Art. 145 of Indian Constitution and therefore he cannot arbitrarily deciding the roster of the cases. Apart from that Supreme Court Rules also vested this power in the Registrar and not in CJI.
- It was contended that CJI is not supposed to be superior then other judges but shall be first amongst them all. Hence he shall in deciding upon the roster consult a collegium consisting of senior judges.
- However, the respondents argued that this practice was continued on the basis of fair practice and had also been engrafted in the Supreme Court Rules to maintain a decorum and discipline in the judicial system.
- The petitioner further urged that this practice was unconstitutional and was against the principle of equal protection of law guaranteed by Art. 14 of the Constitution as it was used with malicious intent at many instances and was thus an obstruction to the process of justice.
- It was alleged that this power was being misused to assign cases to the judges and before the bench where a pre-determined decision could be assured as an outcome. This is why the petitioner had, through this PIL, prayed for a more transparent and rational system for allocating the cases.
- In furtherance of this contention the petitioner suggested that a collegium of five senior judges shall be made to decide on this matter in accordance with the decision of Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association and Others v. Union of India1 case.
Following issues were raised in this case:
- Whether a collegium of 5 first judges of Supreme Court shall decide the roster of cases and allocate cases to bench thereafter.
- Whether CJI in acting as master of roster is using his power arbitrarily.
Judgment and Decision[v]
The two judge bench in this case held as follows:
- It relied on judgments of Asok Pande case and CJAR case to refuse the contentions of the petitioner and held that the authority of CJI to decide the roster shall not be delegated to the collegium and that it exercises its power within the ambit of Art 145 and Supreme Court rules.
- The contention of petitioner that relying on the judgement of Second Judge’s Case the bench in this case shall allow the decision of roster to be made by first five judges was denied on the ground that Second Judges Case was related to power of appointment under Art. 125 whereas the power concerned here is administrative power under Art. 145.
- Hence, if the term CJI is allowed to be interpreted as a collegium in this case as well, it will hinder the smooth functioning of day to day process of the court and hence would not be justified in the instant case.
- Further, the bench observed that allocation of cases to a particular bench is a process that needs to be done daily and therefore it would be very impractical to allow this to be decided by a collegium of five judges every day.
- However, the bench agreed with the petitioner on one point that this power shall be exercised strictly in accordance with Supreme Court rules.
- Also the bench stated that it allocation of cases needs to be done by CJI because if it will be allowed that judges may choose the cases they are willing to hear and decide, it would create practical problems and will disturb the smooth functioning of the court.
- Hence the bench refused to accept the plea made by the petitioner and decided in the favour of respondents that power of allocation of cases to the bench is a purely administrative decision of the CJI and cannot be delegated to the collegium.