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'Master of roster' not CJI's arbitrary power to hand-pick judges

06 April 2018

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra's status as "Master of the Roster" in charge of assigning cases has been challenged in the Supreme Court just after a political move towards impeachment of the top judge in parliament flopped.

In January, four most senior judges after Chief Justice Dipak Mishra went public with their criticism of the way sensitive cases were allocated.

Mr. Bhushan in his petition asked the Apex court to "clarify the administrative authority of the CJI as the master of roster and for the laying down of the procedure and principles to be followed in preparing the roster for allocation of cases".

It said "the collective opinion of a collegium of senior judges is much safer than the opinion of the Chief Justice alone".

The senior advocate has stated that the "master of roster" can not be unguided and or have unbridled discretionary power that is exercised arbitrarily by the Chief Justice when it comes to picking judges for a bench or assigning cases to a judge.

If the registry allows Bhushan's petition, it could be heard by Justice Chelameswar, the second most senior judge in the apex court.

"This petition raises issue as to extremely disturbing trend of listing matters subjectively and selectively as clearly discernible from the available data of matters recently filed and listed before only certain benches".

This, he argued, would result in a subversion of democracy and the rule of law.

"The present writ petition raises substantial question (sic) of law as to the scope and ambit of the administrative powers and their exercise by the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India", the petition says. "It is respectfully submitted that these actions and/or omissions are clearly unwarranted and unjustified and reflect a clear design on the part of the Respondents to favour a particular cause or a matter or deflect its course in some manner", it said.

Significantly, the Bhushans have asked that the case not be heard by incumbent Dipak Misra as he had past year set up and headed the Constitution bench that declared the CJI's "master of roster" powers could not be questioned.

'Master of roster' not CJI's arbitrary power to hand-pick judges