Judicial Reforms

Issues with Master of the Roaster power of CJI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Master of the Roaster

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of the Master of Roaster power for the independence of the judiciary

CJI’s power as Master of Roaster and issues with it

  • The Supreme Court recently closed the proceedings enquiring into a conspiracy to threaten the independence of the judiciary on the basis of sexual harassment allegations against the former CJI.
  • The singular power of the CJI as the Master of the Roster – i.e., the vests exclusive discretion in the Chief Justice to constitute benches and allocate cases.
  • While the CJI’s other powers such as recommending appointments to constitutional courts are shared with other senior judges, the power of Master of the Roster is enjoyed without scrutiny.
  • This power enabled Justice Gogoi to institute suo motu proceedings despite being an accused; label the case as a matter of judicial independence; and preside over it.
  • This power lay at the heart of the controversy surrounding the proceedings the Court has now closed.

Implications for independence of judiciary

  • From the standpoint of judicial independence, the Master of the Roster power makes the CJI’s office a high stakes one.
  • It makes the CJI the sole point of defence of the Court against executive interference.
  • However, this has a flip side.
  • With the CJI as the sole Master of the Roster, any executive seeking to influence the Supreme Court needs only a pliant CJI.
  • Yet, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to dilute this power.
  • In Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India (2018), a three-judge bench of the Court held that Master of the Roster is the CJI’s exclusive power.
  • Thereafter, a two-judge bench in Shanti Bhushan v. Supreme Court of India (2018) rejected the plea that the Master of the Roster should be interpreted as the collegium.

Need for the reforms

  • The collegium system has failed to keep executive interferences at bay from the Supreme Court.
  • This is for two reasons:
  • First, as Justice Gogoi’s case shows, there is an attractive lure of post-retirement jobs.
  • Second, as the privilege of Master of the Roster shows, the CJI’s allocation of cases is an unchecked power.
  • The continuing project of judicial reforms should then address these two issues.

Way forward

  • A cooling-off period between retirement and a post-retirement appointment has often been suggested as a way to deal with the first problem.
  • For the second, the power of Master of the Roster needs to be diversified beyond the CJI’s exclusive and untrammelled discretion.

Consider the question “What are the issues with the Master of the Roaster power of the Chief Justice of India? Suggest the ways to deal with the issue.” 

Conclusion

We need to carry out these reforms make the judiciary less prone to interference from the executive.

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