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SC Agrees to Hear Shanti Bhushan’s Petition on Allocation of Cases

A bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan will now hear the matter on 27 April.

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India
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The Supreme Court on Friday, 13 April, decided to examine a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

A bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan sought the assistance of Attorney General KK Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in dealing with the PIL stating that the CJI cannot exercise arbitrary power in allocation of cases.

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Court Won’t Go Into January Press Conference by Senior Judges

However, the bench took objection when Bhushan's counsel made an attempt to bring to its notice the unprecedented 12 January press conference held by four of the court's most senior judges – Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph – who had accused Chief Justice Dipak Misra of arbitrarily allocating cases.

"We are not going to go into it. We are not concerned with it for many reasons and obvious reasons. Don't say all this", the bench said.

The apex court will now hear the matter on 27 April.

The bench also referred to its recent verdicts, saying it has already held that the CJI is the "master of roster".

The bench was referring to the apex court's 11 April verdict, which said the CJI is the "first among equals" and occupies a unique position having the "exclusive prerogative" to allocate cases and set up benches to hear cases.

CJI Not on Bench

Bhushan's petition came up for hearing a day after a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar, the most senior judge after the CJI, refused to order its listing saying that he did not want his order to be reversed again in 24 hours.

After Chelameswar's refusal, Bhushan's son and advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the matter before a bench headed by the CJI, which had allocated it for hearing before a bench headed by Justice A K Sikri, who is number six in seniority.

When Shanti Bhushan filed the PIL, Prashant Bhushan had written to the secretary general of the apex court stating that the matter should not be listed before a bench that includes the CJI.

Prashant Bhushan said in the letter that it would be appropriate that the petition be listed before three most senior judges of the top court for allocating it before an appropriate bench.

In the petition, the CJI has been named as one of the respondents along with the registrar of the Supreme Court.

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What is the Petition Asking for?

In his PIL, Shanti Bhushan has stated that the "master of roster" cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

The petition said the CJI’s authority as master of roster is “not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in the chief justice alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion”.

Such an authority should be exercised by the CJI in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncement of this court, it said.

The petition assumes significance in light of the 12 January press conference when the four judges said the situation in the top court was "not in order" and many "less than desirable" things have taken place.

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