Recently, four senior Judges of the Supreme Court of India had written a letter to Chief Justice of India to highlight certain judicial orders passed by the Apex Court that inter alia impacted the administrative functioning of the Office of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India. The letter stated that one of the well settled principles was that the Chief Justice was the master of the roster with a privilege to determine the roster, necessity in multi numbered courts for an orderly transaction of business and appropriate arrangements with respect to matters with which member/bench of the Supreme Court (as the case may be) was required to deal with which case or class of cases was to be made. Further, the letter went on to state that there was a convention devised for disciplined and efficient transaction of business of the Court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues.
The letter also mentioned that there were well-settled and time honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be the conventions dealing with the strength of the bench which is required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof. A necessary corollary to the above mentioned principles as per the letter was the members of any multi numbered judicial body including this Court would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise with due regard to the roster fixed. According to the four Hon’ble Judges who had written this letter, any departure from the above two rules would not only lead to unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution but also chaos that would result from such departure.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the recent case of Kamini Jaiswal v. Union of India & Anr. Reported in (2018) 1 SCC 156 clarified the administrative prerogative of the Chief Justice of India regarding constitution of benches and allocation of cases. It opined that the submission raised that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India should not assign the matter on the administrative side was highly improper and relied on the decision by a 3 Judge bench of this Hon’ble Court in D.C. Saxena v, Chief Justice of India reported in (1996) 5 SCC 216 as well as the Supreme Court rules. In the DC Saxena case, the Apex Court laid down that it was the duty of the Chief Justice to assign judicial work to brother Judges and by doing so, he did not become a Judge in his own cause. The Court also observed in the DC Saxena case that it was contempt to imply that the Chief Justice would assign it to a Bench which would not pass an order adverse to him.
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India also held in the case of Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India reported in (2018) 1 SCC 196 that the Chief Justice was the Master of the Roster and he alone had the prerogative to constitute Benches and allocate cases. Besides the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 also provides that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has to assign the case. The Supreme Court Rules were made by the Supreme Court in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 145 of the Constitution which permits it to make rules for regulating generally the practice and procedure of the Court from time to time. The Rules also provide for roster instructions and amendments being prepared in such a manner so as to ensure that no judicial time is wasted.
Hence in my opinion, transparency is the need of the hour to ensure that no judicial time is wasted while the Chief Justice constitutes Benches and allocated cases. Therefore the Supreme Court Rules may be amended and a transparent process of allocation of cases and constitution of benches be laid down in accordance with the aforesaid settled position of law that the Chief Justice is the master of the roster. This would further ensure that the common man does not look at judicial orders with suspicion and apprehensions are not created in the minds of the people vis-vis the judiciary. It is important that the integrity of the country’s highest Court continue to be sacrosanct in order to ensure good democracy because of judiciary being one of the three organs of the government.