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Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition seeking a direction to evolve a procedure for constituting benches and allotting jurisdiction to different benches. Calling the petition, filed by Advocate Asok Pande, 'scandalous', the apex court said CJI is the head of the institution to ensure top court exercises. It is constitutional obligation. The bench of CJI Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was passing orders on a petition said, there can't be a presumption of distrust in the Chief Justice of India.
The order comes at a time when the row over the assignment of cases in the apex court and role of Chief Justice Dipak Misra rages following the press conference by four senior-most SC judges.
Here are the top 10 developments on the controversy around allotment of cases and benches' jurisdiction and what SC said with regard to the CJI's powers:
1. The petition: The petition was filed after four senior judges of the top court went public in January, saying "things are not in order" in what they called the "administration of the Supreme Court". "Unfettered power is being exercised by the Chief Justices in the matter of formation of benches, and so, the same is liable to be regulated through specific rules," says the petition filed by Asok Pande, a lawyer. The petition also seeks that rules be amended so that the three-judge bench in the Chief Justice's court should also include two judges next in seniority to him. In other words, as per the current hierarchy, the bench should include Justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi.
2. The question of hierarchy: The petition also seeks that rules be amended so that the three-judge bench in the Chief Justice's court should also include two judges next in seniority to him. In other words, as per the current hierarchy, the bench should include Justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi.
3. First among equals: 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 today. Justice Chandrachud, writing the judgment for the bench, referred to constitutional schemes and said "the Chief Justice of India is first among equals and has the authority to decide allocation of cases and setting up of benches".
4. No distrust, please: Since the CJI is a high constitutional functionary, there cannot be "any distrust about the responsibilities he discharges" to ensure that the Supreme Court to carries out the work required under the Constitution, the order stated.
5. The background to the case: The PIL was filed against the backdrop of the January 12 press conference held by senior-most apex court judges including Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, an unprecedented event. They had raised five grievances, including the distribution of important cases, and selective assignments of important cases based on preference, instead of rationality.
6. Need for transparency: More transparency needed in collegium meetings, says Justice Chelameswar: Batting for more transparency in collegium meetings, the second senior-most judge of the apex court, Justice J Chelameswar on Monday said a proper performance assessment of high court judges for elevation to the top court was hardly done.
The judge was speaking during a panel discussion titled 'The Indian Higher Judiciary: Issues and Prospects'.
"What exactly goes on in collegium meetings and what is the nature of assessment undertaken at the time of choosing a particular name is required to be a little more transparent.
"An assessment of performance of a high court judge, I am talking about elevation to the Supreme Court, is hardly done. Generally, the assessment goes by impression," Justice Chelameswar said.
The SCBA executive committee, which held an emergency meeting, resolved that all public interest litigation (PIL) matters, including the pending PILs, should be either taken up by the CJI or be assigned for adjudication to the four senior judges who were part of the apex court collegium.
8. Prashant Bhushan tweets: Bhushan filed a petition alleging abuse of power by CJI in fixing benches. It sought regulation of this power through rules and Collegium. CJI was a party and couldn't have heard it. It wasn't even registered! Today CJI delivers a Jt saying his power to fix bench can't be questioned!
9. Shanti Bhushan's petition on allocation of cases by CJI pending: Another petition on a similar issue had been filed by senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, but that is still pending before the court. Bhushan had sought direction that the exercise of authority as a master of roster by the Chief Justice of India in allocating the cases to different benches be done in consultation with senior judges who are part of the top court collegium.
On 2/4 SBhushan filed petition alleging abuse of power by CJI in fixing benches. It sought regulation of this power thru rules&Collegium. CJI was a party&couldn't have heard it. It wasn't even registered! Today CJI delivers a Jt saying his power to fix bench can't be questioned! https://t.co/k5yr1rd3fx— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) April 11, 2018
In his PIL, Bhushan said that the authority of Chief Justice of India as a master of roster was not an "absolute, arbitrary, singular power" which might be exercised in his "sole discretion", and the CJI "must" exercise his authority in consultation with other senior judges who are also part of collegiums.