Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph held an unprecedented press conference
New Delhi: A petition asking for a change in the way cases are assigned was rejected today by the Supreme Court, which called it "scandalous". "The Chief Justice of India is the highest authority and he can't be distrusted," said a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. In January, four senior Supreme Court judges had gone public with the allegation that the Chief Justice was abusing his position as "master of the roster" and sensitive cases were being allocated to junior judges.
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"The role of the CJI (Chief Justice of India) in the allotment of cases and choice of benches can't be questioned. To undermine his authority and say he will exercise power arbitrarily is misconceived," the court said. The bench also said seniority in terms of appointment "has no bearing" on which cases a judge should hear.
The petition, filed by a Lucknow-based lawyer, had argued that "unfettered power was being exercised by the Chief Justices in the matter of formation of Benches", so, there should be specific and transparent rules to regulate the process.
The petitioner also sought a transparent, codified procedure for the constitution of benches and allocation of cases in the Supreme Court.
Rules should be changed so the three-judge bench in the Chief Justice's court may include two judges next in seniority to him, the petition said. A change to this effect would have included Justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi in the bench.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, whose father Shanti Bhushan has filed a similar petition, called the judgment "farcial". "Some lawyer from Lucknow filed this petition and the CJI bench takes this and delivers the verdict. One of the future CJI also in the bench... This is to pre-empt our petition," Mr Bhushan said.
The issue of allocation of cases was raised in an unprecedented press conference in January by four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court -- Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
The press conference came after a sensitive case, involving the death of Special Judge BH Loya, was assigned to Justice Arun Mishra, the number 10 in the Supreme Court hierarchy. The dissenting judges had implied that the Chief Justice was abusing his position as "master of roster".
Speaking at a public event in Delhi last week, Justice Chelameswar had said there should be transparency in the allocation of cases, else there will be "suspicion".
In March, Justice Chelameswar had also written to the Chief Justice of India, flagging what he called the "bonhomie between judiciary and the government" and sought a full court discussion on the government's role in the appointment of judges, news agency Press Trust of India reported.