The Supreme Court in latest ruling once again has upheld Chief Justice of India (CJI) as ‘Master of Roster’. According to ruling given by SC bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, CJI is an individual judge and not the powerful collective of five senior-most judges of Supreme Court called the ‘Collegium’. CJI has exclusive authority to allocate cases to fellow judges and is spokesperson of the court.
The judgment was based on petition filed by former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan for considering expression CJI should be read as meaning Collegium for the purpose of allocation of cases. The petition had mentioned that to have collegium of Supreme Court judges collectively to allocate cases rather than leave the entire power in the hands of CJI in his administrative capacity as the ‘Master of Roster’. This is the third time Supreme Court has declared its Chief Justice as the ‘Master of Roster’. Earlier the apex court in two separate judgments in November 2017 and April 2018 had upheld CJI ‘s complete administrative authority to allocate cases and constitute Benches.
Recent SC Ruling (on petition of Shanti Bhushan)
Court agreed with the submission of Attorney General K K Venugopal that if allocation of cases and constitution of benches is given in multiple hands, it will lead to differences and hurdles in smooth distribution of work.
Role of Chief Justice: Though, Constitution is silent on role of Chief Justice and does not have there is no specific provision relating thereto either in Constitution or even in any other law, but judicial position in previous judgments of court on this topic was based on sound conventions and has developed healthy practice over time.
As per these precedents and conventions, CJI is empowered to exercise leadership on the court, and in this role he is expected to be spokesperson and representative of judiciary in its dealings with executive, among others. CJI has authority and responsibility for administration of the apex court, which gives him ultimate authority for determining the distribution of judicial work load.
CJI being the first among equals: The phrase is generally relatable to judicial function designed to emphasise fact that voices of members of particular bench, which may include ‘Chief Justice’, are given equal weight and that in deciding cases. In such bench opinion of Chief Justice carries same weight and is no different from those of other members of the bench. Thus, in given case, there is possibility that Chief Justice’s view may be minority view and in that eventuality, outcome of case may be what majority decides. The word first in this this case signifies only fact that Chief Justice is the seniormost judge of the court.