The Supreme Court has reiterated that Chief Justice of India (CJI) is first among equals and has exclusive prerogative to allocate cases and constitute benches. The ruling was given by SC bench led by the CJI Dipak Misra dismissing PIL that sought directions to regulate CJI’s power to form benches and allocate cases.
The CJI in his capacity as judge is primus inter pares, first among equals. In discharge of his other functions, CJI occupies position which is sui generis, in class by itself. Article 146 reaffirms position CJI as head of institution. From institutional perspective, CJI is placed at helm of SC. In the allocation of cases and constitution of benches, CJI has exclusive prerogative. CJI is institution in himself as he is repository of constitutional trust. The authority which is conferred upon CJI is vested in high constitutional functionary necessary for efficient transaction of administrative and judicial work of SC.
The ultimate purpose behind entrustment of authority to CJI is to ensure that SC is able to fulfil and discharge constitutional obligations which govern and provide rationale for its existence. The entrustment of functions to CJI as head of institution, is with purpose of securing position of SC as independent safeguard for preservation of personal liberty. There cannot be a presumption of mistrust. The oath of office demands nothing less.
The ruling comes more than four months after five-judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court asserted that CJI alone had power to draw up benches and allot work to them. This was also reaffirmed few days later by three-judge bench which dismissed a plea seeking a court-monitored probe into medical college admission scam allegedly involving former Orissa High Court judge. But the controversy over allocation of work by CJI in SC refused to ebb as its four most senior judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Ranjan Gogoi and Kurian Joseph called an unprecedented press conference in January 2018 to raise questions about the conduct of CJI, especially on allocation of work.