Allocation of cases: CJI is the first among equals; there can’t be presumption of mistrust: SC

Supreme Court: Dismissing the petition seeking drafting of set Procedure for constituting the benches and allotment of jurisdiction to different benches in Supreme Court, the 3-judge Bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ held that there cannot be a presumption of mistrust against the Chief Justice of India. The Bench held that in the allocation of cases and the constitution of benches the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative. The authority which is conferred upon the Chief Justice is vested in a high constitutional functionary and is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the Court. The Court said:

“In his capacity as a Judge, the Chief Justice is primus inter pares: the first among equals.”

The order that was penned by Chandrachud, J also stated that the writ of mandamus filed by the petitioner was manifestly misconceived as it is a well settled principle that no mandamus can issue to direct a body or authority which is vested with a rule making power to make rules or to make them in a particular manner. The Supreme Court has been authorised under Article 145 to frame rules of procedure.

Regarding the contention that certain categories of cases or certain courts must consist only of the senior-most in terms of appointment, the Bench held that every Judge appointed to this Court under Article 124 of the Constitution is invested with the equal duty of adjudicating cases which come to the Court and are assigned by the Chief Justice. Seniority in terms of appointment has no bearing on which cases a Judge should hear. It was held:

“To suggest that any Judge would be more capable of deciding particular cases or that certain categories of cases should be assigned only to the senior-most among the Judges of the Supreme Court has no foundation in principle or precedent. To hold otherwise would be to cast a reflection on the competence and ability of other judges to deal with all cases assigned by the Chief Justice notwithstanding the fact that they have fulfilled the qualifications mandated by the Constitution for appointment to the office.”

Regarding allocation of cases in the High Courts, the Court explained:

“The High Courts periodically publish a roster of work under the authority of the Chief Justice. The roster indicates the constitution of Benches, Division and Single. The roster will indicate the subject matter of the cases assigned to each bench. Different High Courts have their own traditions in regard to the period for which the published roster will continue, until a fresh roster is notified. Individual judges have their own strengths in terms of specialisation. The Chief Justice of the High Court has to bear in mind the area of specialisation of each judge, while deciding upon the allocation of work. However, specialisation is one of several aspects which weigh with the Chief Justice.”

Noticing that the averments which have been made by the petitioner, an advocate, were scandalous, the Court asked the petitioner to be more responsible for the manner in which he seeks to draft pleadings in future filings. [Asok Pandey v. Supreme Court of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 361, decided on 11.04.2018]

To read the details of another petition filed on similar lines by former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan and the timeline of events that led to the filing of the said petition, click here.

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