Master of the Roster
Master of the Roster

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “first among equals” and has the constitutional authority to decide allocation of cases and setting up of benches to hear them, the Supreme Court ruled on April 11, 2018. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud dismissed a PIL which was filed following a contention publicly made by some senior judges of the apex court, challenging the authority of the Chief Justice in the matter of allocation of judges to hear cases. It sought framing of new guidelines for rational and transparent allocation of cases and constitution of benches to hear them. 

But the bench said: “the Chief Justice of India is first among equals and has the authority to decide allocation of cases and setting up of benches”. Since the CJI is a high constitutional functionary, there cannot be “any distrust about the responsibilities he discharges” to ensure that the Supreme Court carries out the work required under the Constitution, the order stated.

On January 12, four Supreme Court Justices Justice J Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph unusually held forth at a press conference that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) cannot be the ‘Master of the Roster.’ They alleged that the CJI could bypass senior judges and allot significant cases to benches of his choice, thus contravening a well-established convention to respect seniority in matters of setting up benches. 

It may be recalled that in November 2017, the Constitution Bench, led by CJI Dipak Misra, also ruled that the CJI was indeed the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.” The Bench further clarified that “no Judge can take up the matter on this own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster.” 

The order came a day after a two-judge bench, headed by Justice J Chelameswar, had passed a judicial order that a five-judge bench of senior-most judges in the top court shall be constituted to consider an independent probe into a corruption case, in which bribes were allegedly being taken in the name of settling cases pending before the Supreme Court judges.