CJI is only first among equals, say SC judges in letter
Pointing out that "settled principles" of assigning the cases were not adhered to by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), the four Supreme Court judges, who spoke to the media on Friday, wrote in a letter that such a thing may "lead to unpleasant and undesirable consequences."
The letter to CJI Dipak Mishra by four SC judges, Kurian Joseph, J.Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur, said there have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences were assigned "without any rationale basis".
"One of the well settled principles is that the Chief Justice is the master of the roster with a privilege to determine the roster, necessity in multi-numbered courts for an orderly transaction of business and appropriate arrangements with respect to matters with which member/bench of this Court (as the case may be) is required to deal with which case or class of cases is to be made. The convention of recognising the privilege of the Chief Justice to form the roster and assign cases to different numbers/benches of the Court is a convention devised for a disciplined and efficient transaction of business of the Court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues," the letter said.
"It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of the country that the Chief Justice is only the first amongst the equals - nothing more or nothing less. In the matter of the determination of the roster there are well-settled and time honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be it the conventions dealing with the strength of the bench which is required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof," it added.
The letter said that incorrect assignment of cases may result in chaos.
"A necessary corollary to the above mentioned principle is the members of any multi-numbered judicial body, including this court, would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise with due regard to the roster fixed," it said.
"Any departures from the above two rules would not only lead to unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution. Not to talk about the chaos that would result from such departure. We are sorry to say that off late the twin rules mentioned above have not been strictly adhered to. There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justices of this court selectively to the benches "of their preference" without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs," it added.
The letter further said the Chief Justice of India is duty bound to rectify the situation and take appropriate remedial measures after a full discussion with the other members of the Collegium.
All four judges earlier said that there are several irregularities happening within the SC and CJI is not amenable to requests of the senior four. Justice Chelameswar said that they wanted the Chief Justice of India to rectify certain things. He also said that the CJI did not listen to them.
This is for the first time in the history of India that sitting judges of the SC are addressing the media.