NEW DELHI: A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra will hear on Monday two PILs seeking an independent probe into the death of Sohrabuddin “fake” encounter trial judge B H Loya allegedly under suspicious circumstances. The allocation of this case to a bench led by Justice Arun Mishra was one of the triggers for the unprecedented press conference by four most senior judges of the apex court, who claimed cases were being “selectively” assigned to certain benches.
Justice Arun Mishra, who was upset about the insinuation by the four judges that he had under the CJI emerged as the “bench of preference” to which important and sensitive cases are being assigned, had, along with Justice M M Shantanagoudar, refused on Tuesday to hear the Loya case. At the time of his death, Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused along with several others. Shah was subsequently discharged from the case.
The stunning press conference and the charge that senior judges were being discriminated against, which initially evoked disbelief and was frowned upon by judges, has served as a catalyst for the CJI to fast-track a process of introduction of reforms in administration of the apex court, mainly to devise a mechanism for transparent assignment of cases to benches.
Sources said the CJI, though disappointed and hurt by the presser and what sources close to him described as “unfounded-yet-hyped allegations”, has quietly gone about studying the process of allocation of cases in various high courts.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra has been quietly studying the process of allocation of cases in various high courts, especially the methods successfully working in one of the HCs, sources said. The Bombay HC regularly publishes the roster clearly mentioning categories of cases to be assigned to a particular judge.
The CJI is also working on possible areas of reforms urgently required in the administration of the apex court and intends to involve future CJIs and many others once he prepares the draft. “The judges come from various backgrounds and carry with them years of experience in the HCs and as chief justices of a state. The press conference highlighted the need for a frequent collective dialogue process among judges to improve the administrative system,” they said. At present, there are short interactions on Wednesdays when judges meet over lunch.
The judges acknowledge the CJI’s perception that he is the master of the roster, which is also backed by a recent five-judge bench judgment. However, given the context of the January 12 press conference, the judges also feel that there was a need to make the assignment of cases more transparent, even though the CJI could reserve the right for keeping to himself hearing on certain extraordinarily important cases of national importance. It came to light that a roster system was in place within the SC when the CJI directed on Friday listing of the PILs, one by Tehseen Poonawala and the other by B S Lone, who sought a probe into judge B H Loya’s death. The CJI order on Friday asked for listing the matter “as per roster”. This came after Justice Mishra recused himself from the case.
The four senior judges had said that listing of the PILs on judge Loya’s death before a select bench headed by a “junior” judge pushed them to hold the press conference for highlighting the systemic irregular manner in which successive Chief Justices of India have assigned important cases to hand-picked benches headed by junior judges. There is a not a single judge who supported the four senior judges’ idea of holding a press conference to highlight the grievance, but the issue highlighted resonated with the judges and the CJI, who were open for a transparent case allocation method. A majority of the judges feel that a transparent case allocation system must be synced with the five-judge bench judgment holding the CJI as master of the roster. The CJI and judges are also aware that despite a roster system, there would always be room for a judge to be dissatisfied about the nature of the cases getting allocated to him/her and could still go ahead and hold a press conference airing grievances.
Sources also said the novel way of “discharging debt to the nation” through a press conference could turn out to be contagious, with personal ambitions and perceived irregularities fuelling similar occurrences in the high courts, which have far greater number of judges than the SC and, thus, greater possibility of disagreement with the chief justices.