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Chief Justice is master of Roster

(06 Jul 2018) A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan has yet again upheld that the chief justice of India is the master of the roster in a petition filed by former law minister and senior advocate Mr. Shanti Bhushan. The bench delivered two separate but concurring judgments upholding the prerogative of the CJI in allocating cases.

This is infact the third time in past one year that, the Supreme Court has reiterated that chief justice is the master of roster. The Supreme Court in the present case has held that, the Chief Justice of India is an individual judge and not the powerful collective of five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court called the Collegium and further observed that, unlike having the Collegium to decide the appointment and transfer of judges, a collective deciding which cases should go to which Bench would affect the day-to-day functioning of the Court.

The Court also observed that, the faith of the people is the bed-rock on which the edifice of judicial review and efficacy of the adjudication are founded. Erosion of credibility of the judiciary, in the public mind, for whatever reasons, is greatest threat to the independence of the judiciary. The Court further observed that judiciary walks the tightrope of independence and it has also become a regular feature that even laymen, who are constitutionally illiterate, enter such debate and evaluate the outcomes influenced by their emotions, rather than on legal or constitutional principles.

The two judge bench negated Mr. Bhushan's proposal that, the Chief Justice of India should only sit with two of his senior most judges and the Constitution Bench should be either a combination of the five senior most judges or three senior most judges, including him, and two junior most judges. The Court said all this should be left to the Chief justice to decide as the chief justice is the ultimate authority to distribute judicial work.

Justice Sikri in his judgment highlighted that, though the Constitution is silent on the exact role of the Chief justice of India, precedents, healthy practices and conventions engrafted in the Supreme Court Rules have moulded the powers and duties of the office and the Chief justice is only 'first among equals' in his judicial functions on the Bench and his opinion on the Bench carries the same weight as any other member of the Bench and in this way, the Chief justice may hold the minority view in a case while the majority opinion on the Bench becomes the law. Now the Supreme Court in its latest judgment has yet again reiterated its views on Chief justice and his power to allocate cases and day to day functioning of Court, it is quite hopeful that this controversy is finally put to rest.

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