Four senior Supreme Court of India judges recently wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India highlighting significant judicial rulings issued by the Apex Court that impacted the administrative operation of the Office of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, among other things. According to the letter, one of the well-established principles was that the Chief Justice was the master of the roster, with the power to determine the roster, the necessity of an orderly transaction of business in multi-numbered courts, and appropriate arrangements with respect to which member/bench of the Supreme Court (as the case may be) was required to deal with which case or class of cases. The letter went on to say that there was a tradition established for the Court’s work to be conducted in a disciplined and efficient manner, but that it was not a recognition of the Chief Justice’s legal or factual superiority over his colleagues.
The letter further stated that the Chief Justice is guided by well-established and time-honoured conventions, whether they pertain to the strength of the bench required to deal with a particular case or its makeup. According to the letter, members of any multi-numbered judicial body, including this Court, would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce on matters that should be heard by appropriate benches, both in terms of composition and strength, with due regard for the roster established. Any deviation from the above two rules, according to the four Hon’ble Judges who wrote this letter, would result in not only unpleasant and unwanted outcomes such as creating doubt in the public mind about the institution’s integrity, but also pandemonium.
In the recent case of Kamini Jaiswal v. Union of India & Or., reported in (2018) 1 SCC 156, the Hon’ble Supreme Court clarified the Chief Justice of India’s administrative power on bench formation and case allocation. It held that the submission that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India should not assign the matter to the administrative side was highly improper, citing a decision by a three-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 Supreme Court rules. The Supreme Court held in the DC Saxena case that it was the Chief Justice’s responsibility to delegate judicial duties to brother Judges, and that by doing so, he did not become a judge in his own cause. In the DC Saxena case, the Court also ruled that implying that the Chief Justice would assign it to a bench that would not rule against him was contemptuous.
In the case of Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India, reported in (2018) 1 SCC 196, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India likewise found that the Chief Justice was the Master of the Roster, and that he alone had the power to establish Benches and assign cases. In addition to the Supreme Court Rules, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India is required to assign the case. The Supreme Court Rules were enacted by the Supreme Court in accordance with Article 145 of the Constitution, which allows it to create rules governing the Court’s general practise and procedure from time to time. The Rules further stipulate that roster instructions and revisions be made in such a way that no judicial time is squandered.
As a result, transparency, in my opinion, is critical to ensuring that no court time is lost while the Chief Justice establishes benches and assigns cases. As a result, the Supreme Court Rules may be changed, and a transparent process of case assignment and bench formation may be established in accordance with the aforementioned settled legal position that the Chief Justice is the master of the roster. This would also ensure that the common man does not regard judicial orders with distrust, and that no fears are instilled in the public’s minds about the judiciary. Because the judiciary is one of the three organs of government, it is critical that the country’s highest court’s integrity be preserved in order to sustain good democracy.