Supreme Court rightly held that CJI is master of roster, say legal experts

Legal experts on Friday hailed the Supreme Court ruling that the chief justice of India is the "master of the roster", an issue which generated an intense debate in the wake of the January press meet by the four senior apex court judges who accused CJI Dipak Misra of assigning sensitive cases to judges junior to them.

Senior advocates Rakesh Dwivedi, K T S Tulsi, Vikas Singh and constitutional expert Govind Goel were of the view that former law minister Shanti Bhushan's stand that the CJI has to work in consultation with the other members of the Collegium for allocation of cases was not only "incorrect" but also "preposterous".

They maintained that such a premise could "paralyse" the functioning of the court.

The lawyer said the apex court verdict is "correct" as the CJI has "the complete power" to allocate cases to different benches.

At the same time, Tulsi, also a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress, said that in case an allegation is made, the CJI should leave the matter to the other members of the Collegium for allocation to a bench of which he is not a part.

Vikas Singh, who is also the Supreme Court Bar Association president, said that the top court today only reiterated what had been held earlier and there was no bar on the CJI having consultation with other four Collegium judges for the constitution of the benches.

Dwivedi said that the CJI is "undoubtedly" the master of the roster after a bench comprising justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan held that the chief justice occupied the role of "first among equals".

Goel, who has authored a book on Constitution bench verdicts till the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) judgement of October 16, 2015, said Bhushan, who had challenged the existing roster practice of allocation of cases, made a "preposterous" suggestion that it was the five-judge Collegium which has to take a call on composition of benches and allocation of work.

A similar view was shared by Dwivedi, who said Bhushan stand could "paralyse" the functioning of the court.

"There is no doubt about the CJI being the master of roster...There is no alternative method," he said.

Tusli said, "The CJI is definitely the master of the roster. However, if there are allegations, then the chief justice should not deal with a matter even in his administrative capacity.

"For that particular case, he should delegate the power to someone else. He is the master of roster with regard to everything otherwise," he said.

Bhushan had filed a PIL on the issue after the January 12 press conference during which justices J Chelameswar (now retired), Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph came out in the open against the incumbent CJI with litany of allegation including that he was allocating sensitive cases to judges junior to them.