The Supreme Court has ruled that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “first among equals” and holds a unique position having the “exclusive prerogative” to allocate cases and set up benches to hear cases.
The verdict assumed significance as it came in the backdrop of the January 12 unprecedented press conference of senior-most judges including Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph raising the issue of improper allocation of cases, media reports said.
Senior advocate and former law minister Shanti Bhushan has also recently filed a PIL seeking clarification on the administrative authority of the CJI as the ‘master of roster’ and laying down of principles in preparing the roster for allocation of cases to different benches, reported PTI.
“In his capacity as a Judge, the CJI is primus inter pares: the first among equals. In the discharge of his other functions, the Chief Justice of India occupies a position which is sui generis (unique)…Article 146 reaffirms the position of the Chief Justice of India as the head of the institution.
“From an institutional perspective the Chief Justice is placed at the helm of the Supreme Court. In the allocation of cases and the constitution of benches, the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.
Dismissing a PIL filed by Uttar Pradesh-based lawyer Ashok Pande seeking evolution of a “set procedure” to constitute benches and allot cases to different benches, the bench reportedly said that as a “repository of constitutional trust, the Chief Justice is an institution in himself”.
Justice Chandrachud, writing the judgement for the bench, referred to the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and said they were notified with the approval of the President.
“Rule 1 indicates that it is the Chief Justice who is to nominate the Judges who would constitute a Bench to hear a cause, appeal or matter. Where a reference has been made to a larger Bench, the Bench making the reference is required to refer the matter to the Chief Justice who will constitute a Bench,” the judgement reportedly said.