New Delhi: Today’s episode of four Supreme Court judges coming out against the chief justice has stunned the entire nation. The division in the apex court became apparent when the top four judges in the Supreme Court called a press conference and accused the Chief Justice Dipak Misra of not strictly adhering to rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches.
This is the first time that sitting judges of the apex court have come out openly against the chief justice of the apex court questioning him on different issues. There is no denying that the latest step that comes as completely unprecedented for everyone in the country has created “doubt” about the integrity of the apex court.
The judges who addressed the press conference today included Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph Madan B. Lokur and Justice J Chelameswar. The press conference was held at the house of Justice Chelameswar.
The four justices while addressing the media said that affairs of the apex court was “not in order” and released an undated letter they wrote to Justice Misra in which they conceded that the Chief Justice was the master of roster but this was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.
While speaking on the occasion the four justices said, “It is an extraordinary event in the history of judiciary and more particularly in this nation, even for this institution (Supreme Court). It is with no pleasure that we have been compelled to do this. Administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. Many things less than desirable have happened in the last few months. We owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things are not in order and remedial measures are necessary.
Justice Chelameswar said that “Unfortunately our efforts have failed in convincing the Chief Justice of India to take steps to protect this institution”. The only saving grace was the fact that the four justices didn’t refer to any particular matter the Chief Justice had decided in assigning benches. Asked specifically if they were upset over reference of the matter seeking a probe into the suspicious death of Special CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, Justice Gogoi said: “Yes.”
There has been some sort of dissent in the making for quite sometimes. The clash among the judges in the highest court also comes in the wake of a controversial order in November in which Justice Misra declared that the Chief Justice “is the master of the roster” having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge. The CJI had given the order a day after a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had passed an order that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the apex court should be set up to consider an independent probe into a corruption case in which bribes were allegedly taken in the name of settling cases pending before Supreme Court judges.
While speaking to the media, the four dissenting judges said that the Chief Justice was only the first among equals. They went on to add that in a matter of determination of roster there were well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be it the convention dealing with the strength of the bench required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof. “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 and strength-wise with due regard to the roster fixed,” they wrote in the letter.
The justices said, “we are sorry to say that, of 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 cost.”
While speaking on the occasion, Justice Chelameswar told the media that they were “convinced that unless this institution is protected and maintain its requirements, democracy will not survive in the country or any country. “For survival of a democracy, it is said… the hallmark of a democracy is independent and impartial judges…Since all our efforts failed… Even this morning, on a particular issue, we, four of us, went and met the Chief Justice with a specific request. Unfortunately we could not convince him. Therefore, we were left with no choice but to communicate with the nation to please take care of the institution and the nation.”