The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it was the "prerogative" of the Chief Justice of India - a high constitutional functionary - to form the benches and allocate cases and that authority can't be regulated on the mere apprehension of being exercised arbitrarily.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: "...such an entrustment of functions is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the court".
"There cannot be a presumption of mistrust. The oath of office demands nothing less," said the judgement rejecting a PIL for framing of rules for regulating the constitution of benches and allocation of cases.
The setting up of benches "lies exclusively in the domain of the prerogative powers of the Chief Justice" and anything that curtails the authority of the Chief Justice, the judgement said, "would intrude into the exclusive duty and authority of the Chief Justice...".
Speaking for the bench, Justice Chandrachud held: "As a repository of Constitutional trust, the Chief Justice is an institution in himself. The authority which is conferred upon the Chief Justice, it must be remembered, is vested in a high Constitutional functionary."
"The entrustment of functions to the Chief Justice as the head of the institution is with the purpose of securing the position of the Supreme Court as an independent safeguard for the preservation of personal liberty."
He added that the "ultimate purpose" behind giving the CJI this authority is to ensure that the court is "able to fulfil and discharge the Constitutional obligations which govern and provide the rationale for its existence".
The court said this while rejecting the PIL by advocate Asok Pande seeking the framing of rules under which a three-judge bench in the court of the Chief Justice must consist of the Chief Justice and his two senior-most colleagues alone, while the Constitution bench should consist of five senior-most judges or three senior-most and two junior-most judges.
Holding that the relief sought by the petitioner was "manifestly misconceived" and "contrary to legal and Constitutional principle", the judgement said: "There is no Constitutional foundation on the basis of which such a suggestion can be accepted."
Noting that petitioner "harbours a misconception" that certain categories of cases or certain courts must consist only of the senior-most in order of their appointment, it said: "Every judge appointed to this court under the Constitution's Article 124 is invested with the equal duty of adjudicating cases which come to the court and are assigned by the Chief Justice."
Pointing out that the judges appointed to Supreme Court, either upon elevation from the High Court or directly from the bar, possess "wide and diverse experience", the court said: "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."
It is a settled position that an order by a judge speaks for the court (except in the case of a concurring or dissenting opinion), the court said.
The petitioner's plea for similar procedure for formation of benches and allocation of cases in Allahabad High Court was also rejected.
Disapproving the manner in which Pande has sought to cast aspersions on the bench of the Allahabad High Court which was assigned with the hearing of the contempt proceedings against him, the court said: "This is yet another instance of reckless allegations being levelled against judges of the High Court in a proceeding where the correctness of the orders passed by the High Court is not in issue."
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