CJI Vs Four Judges Issue

Context:
  • The four senior judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference in which they exposed an unprecedented level of dissension in the top echelons of the judiciary.
  • The banner of revolt has been raised in a public way against the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra.
  • Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — the senior most judges after the CJI alleged that Justice Misra is misusing his administrative powers to assign cases selectively, disregarding conventions on allocation of judicial work.
  • They have added that cases with far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution are being assigned to junior judges and Benches of their preferences.
 
What are the rules?
  • Chief Justice is the master of the roster; even the four judges concede that this is a well-settled law, one that is reflected in a Constitution Bench judgment in 1998.
  • The rule says that Chief Justice alone can decide the composition of Benches and allot judicial work.
  • The allegations are that Justice Misra is departing from set conventions that it would have unpleasant and undesirable consequences, ultimately casting a doubt on the integrity of the institution itself.
 
What led to the crisis?
  • The germ that led to the outbreak of the current conflict could be the controversial Prasad Education Trust case, in which charges of judicial corruption were made. The petitioners alleged that some individuals were plotting to influence the Supreme Court.
  • In an order, a Division Bench headed by Justice Chelameswar delineated the composition of the Bench to hear the case coupled with hints that there would be a conflict of interest if Justice Misra were to hear it.
  • Eventually, a five-judge Bench headed by Justice Misra overturned the order and asserted that the CJI was indeed the master of the roster and that he alone could assign cases and decide on the composition of benches.
 
What is the main issue?
  • While there is no questioning who has the power to determine the roster, what the four judges are essentially questioning is how this power has been exercised.
  • Judicial work is primarily allocated based on a roster, and individual cases are allotted to Benches based on the category under which they fall.
  • Once the roster is fixed, the CJI should ordinarily see that it is duly followed. Exceptions must be rare, and that too only for compelling reasons.
  • While it is not clear in how many cases such exceptions were made, the four judges seem to have had an issue over the petition that sought an inquiry into the death of special CBI judge B.H. Loya in 2014 being posted before a particular Bench.
  • The deceased judge was hearing the Sohrabuddin ‘fake encounter’ case, in which BJP president Amit Shah was an accused but later discharged.
  • Given the political sensitivity of the matter, the concern expressed over this case is something that must be squarely addressed in a way that dispels any misgivings.
  • As for the government of the day, it must stay steadfastly away from the internal conflict in the judiciary.
  • Rather than be inexplicably silent, it must disclose its position on the Memorandum of Procedure for judicial appointments and communicate this clearly to the Supreme Court.
  • One of the specific issues raised in the letter written by the four judges relates to this issue. They have suggested that since the Centre had not responded to the MoP, effectively it was deemed to have been accepted.
  • They have questioned why a two-member Bench had reopened the issue when the matter was already decided by a Constitution Bench.
 
Way Forward
  • Rather than brush away the concerns of the four judges, the Chief Justice must convene a meeting of the full court and give them a patient and careful hearing.
  • It is best that there is no more airing of differences in public and that this incident is regarded by posterity as an aberration rather than a precedent.
  • An internal rift in the judiciary is far more serious. It poses the risk of diminishing the image of the judiciary and the esteem it enjoys in society.
  • Logically, this is an internal matter of the judiciary, one that is best settled through deliberations in a full court meeting of all the Supreme Court judges themselves.
  • There is a substantial public sentiment that distrusts legal rules and state structures and looks to technology for solutions.
 
 
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