In an open letter to the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, a former Supreme Court judge and three former high court judges urged the CJI to take immediate steps to “restore public confidence in the judiciary and in the Supreme Court.”
The former Supreme Court judge PB Sawant, the former chief justice of the Delhi High Court AP Shah, the former Madras High Court judge K Chandru and the former Bombay High Court judge H Suresh wrote that they agreed with a concern expressed recently by four of the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. On the morning of 12 January, four sitting justices—Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph—approached the CJI to discuss the allocation of the hearing of two petitions concerning the death of the judge BH Loya in 2014, which were due to be heard later that day. The petitions had been allocated to a bench comprising the judges Arun Mishra and Mohan Shantanagouder, who are ranked 10 and 22 in seniority, respectively.
Following their meeting with the CJI, the judges held a press conference in which they raised concerns regarding the functioning of the court’s roster as well as the CJI’s office. Speaking on behalf of the four judges, Chelameswar told the media: “We thought we owed a responsibility to the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the chief justice that certain things are not in order and therefore you should take remedial measures … Unfortunately, our efforts failed.” The judges also released a letter that they had written to the CJI in late 2017, in which they stated that the court’s rules regarding the assignment of cases “have not been strictly adhered to” and asked the CJI to finalise the memorandum of procedure at the earliest.
In the open letter, the four retired justices echoed the views of the sitting judges, stating that the allocation of benches can’t be done “in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice.” The former judges, in the letter, also suggested that until a “rational, fair and transparent” system of allocation of benches and distribution of cases are put in place, sensitive cases including pending ones should be “dealt with by a Constitution Bench of the 5 senior most judges of this Court.” The judges wrote that only such measures would ensure that “the power of the chief justice as master of roaster is not being misused to achieve a particular result.”
The letter has been reproduced below:
14th January 2018
Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India
Dear Chief Justice,
The four senior puisne Judges of the Supreme Court have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court. They have expressed a grave concern that cases are not being allocated in a proper manner and are being allocated arbitrarily to particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges, in an arbitrary manner. This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law.
We agree with the four Judges that though the Chief Justice of India is the master of roster and can designate benches for allocation of work, this does not mean that it can be done in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice. This issue needs to be resolved and clear rules and norms must be laid down for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. This must be done immediately to restore public confidence in the judiciary and in the Supreme Court. However till that is done, it is important that all sensitive and important cases including pending ones, be dealt with by a Constitution Bench of the 5 senior most Judges of this Court. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We therefore urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.
Justice P.B. Sawant, (Retd.) former Judge, Supreme Court of India
Justice A.P. Shah, (Retd.) former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court
Justice K. Chandru, (Retd.) former Judge, Madras High Court
Justice H. Suresh, (Retd.) former Judge, Bombay High Court