[Answered] In the light of the recent developments, critically analyze the Chief Justice of India’s power as a master of the roster.

Introduction: Give a brief about CJI.

Body: Why  this power of CJI is under criticism

Conclusion: What can be done to address this concern

The Chief Justice of India is the highest-ranking officer of the judiciary in India. He is in charge of administrative as well as judicial functions of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President of India under Article 124 of the Indian Constitution. All judges of the Supreme Court are equal when adjudicating and hearing cases. However, concerning the administration of the court, it is CJI who is first among the equals as he decides when a case must be listed for hearing and which judge should hear it.

Why has this power of CJI come under criticism:

  • Irregularities in assigning cases: Judges in the past have raised concerns regarding the administration and assigning of cases for hearing to benches in the court.
  • Divided Verdict: Unlike in the USA where all judges exercise collective power and sit en bloc, judges in India sit in benches giving a divided verdict where sometimes CJI is part of the minority opinion. Eg, in the case of EWS reservation.
  • Sitting in Benches: Judges of the Supreme Court sit in bench of two giving CJI more discretion in deciding who will hear the case.
  • Random selection of cases: It is being observed that the allocation of cases is based on the preference of the “Judge” or “based on the will of CJI” ignoring the experience and seniority which are considered as legal precedents while hearing the cases.
  • Rise of PIL cases: The rise of PIL cases has given more discretion to CJI in the allocation of cases forming multiple benches to hear maximum cases while ignoring legal precedents and giving way to more judgments based on personal beliefs.
  • CJI acting as an intra-court appeal: In many cases, it is found that if the order goes against the Government it applies to CJI who takes the matter suo motu and disposes of it without any review petition. This mechanism is against any legislative or constitutional precedent.

Way Forward:

The powers given to CJI are necessary for the smooth administrative functioning of the court. Hence, CJI should take caution in using his wide discretionary powers. Further, the practice of constituting benches and allocation of cases should be computerized to ensure transparency and accountability

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