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CJAR statement on the SC judgement in Asok Pande v Supreme Court & Ors

CAMPAIGN FOR JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND REFORMS
6/6 basement, Jangpura B, Delhi – 110014
judiciareforms@gmail.com, judicialreforms.org

Patrons: Justice P.B. Sawant, Justice H Suresh, Shri Shanti Bhushan, Prof B.B. Pande, Dr. Bhasker Rao, Ms. Arundhati Roy, Shri Pradip Prabhu, Prof. Babu Mathew, Dr. Baba Adhav, Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, Shri Mihir Desai, Shri Manoj Mitta
Executive Committee: Prashant Bhushan, Nikhil Dey, Cheryl Dsouza, Venkatesh Sundaram, Indu Prakash Singh, Devvrat, Siddharth Sharma, Dipa Sinha, Annie Raja, Rohit Kumar Singh, Pranav Sachdeva,Alok Prasanna Kumar, Ramesh Nathan, Vipul Mudgal, Indira Unninayar, Madhuresh Kumar, Vijayan MJ, Koninika Ray, Anjali Bharadwaj, Amrita Johri

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CJAR Statement on the Supreme Court judgement in Asok Pande v. Supreme Court & Ors.
12th April 2018

The judgement of the Supreme Court of India, dismissing Writ Petition (Civil) 147 of 2018, is a setback to efforts seeking more transparency and fairness in the functioning of the court. The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, expresses its disappointment that the judgement has made no effort to restore the public’s confidence in the internal procedures of the Supreme Court which have been called into question by none less than their own brother judges. The January press conference by the four judges and the letter released by them, had clearly alluded to the issue of Chief Justices allocating matters of public importance selectively to benches of their preference without any rational basis for such assignment.

On the 2nd of April 2018, Mr. Shanti Bhushan filed a serious and substantive petition challenging the arbitrary exercise of power by the Chief Justice of India in allocating cases to benches, by exercise of his power as master of roster. In the petition the Chief Justice of India is named as a respondent for obvious reasons and consequently the Secretary General of the Supreme Court was informed that the case could not be heard by the Chief Justice of India nor could the bench for hearing this case be assigned by him, due to conflict of interest. This petition has been kept hanging without being registered despite the defects on the petition being answered and continuous follow up with the registry.

A petition filed by certain advocate Mr. Asok Pande, was suddenly taken up for hearing and arguments were heard only for 5 minutes by the Chief Justice’s Bench itself. Judgement was reserved and was delivered with alarcity within two days (on 11th April 2018), in which observations detailed below have been made, asserting the sole prerogative of the Chief Justice of India to allocate cases and to constitute benches.

It is extremely unfortunate that instead of taking the opportunity to address the serious issues flagged by the four judges at their press conference, there seems to be an attempt to hastily dispose of the matter. The nature of observations, the delay in registering Mr. Shanti Bhushan’s petition (which could not be heard by the Chief Justice of India),the sudden taking up for hearing and delivering judgement on this other petition, on similar issues, involving powers of the Chief Justice as master of roster, seem to be an attempt to seek to pre-empt an independent and dispassionate hearing of Mr. Shanti Bhushan’s petition by a proper bench.

This is not merely a matter of deciding administrative powers of the Chief Justice of India. The recent sequence of events have shown that assigning of benches can fundamentally affect the judicial process. in such a situation, the sudden hearing and deciding of Mr. Asok Pande’s petition by the Chief Justice’s bench itself, is not only a case of the Chief Justice exercising judicial power in a matter involving conflict of interest, but only further underlines and substantiates the allegations of potential abuse of power by any Chief Justice today, or in the future, who might seek to control the collective and independent nature of the Supreme Court of India, by appointing benches, and assigning matters in an arbitrary or motivated manner. Through this judgement, the independent nature of the Indian judiciary has been fundamentally undermined.

The judgement in effect has elevated the Chief Justice of India to an “institution in himself” with “exclusive prerogative” in allocating benches and assigning cases. We are appalled that the court has taken the view that the office of the Chief Justice of India is to be seen as beyond any constitutional and legal scrutiny even in the exercise of administrative functions.

When the constitutional function of the Chief Justice of India, in so far as appointment of judges can be constrained by a procedure and rules laid down in the Second and Third Judges cases that mandate “consultation” with senior judges, we find no reason why, in exercise of administrative functions as Master of the Roster, the Chief Justice of India should not be required to follow basic principles of fairness and transparency that every decision making authority is bound to follow in India. The Chief Justice of India cannot exert authority in any way that would lead to a subversion of the rule of law. While the judgement implores us to place our trust in the high constitutional office of the Chief Justice of India, we regret to point out that recent events have shaken public trust.

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