On Friday January 12, 2018, India witnessed something unprecedented. Four of the senior Supreme Court Justices, i.e. J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph called a press conference and addressed the media to highlight their grievances as to how cases are allocated in the Supreme Court among other things. This is the first time judges spoke to the media about the happenings in the court and against the current Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra. They also released a letter they wrote to Justice Dipak Misra a couple of months ago, explaining their concerns, primarily the way the CJI exercised his administrative powers.
They said that the Chief Justice was breaching rules and "selectively assigning" cases that have "far-reaching consequences for the nation" to "junior judges" and bypassing the senior judges. They also said that the Supreme Court administration was "not in order" and that their previous efforts to persuade Justice Misra failed which is why they came forward and called the media.
The judges raised a lot of other issues stating and conceding that the CJI was the master of roster, i.e., he has the power to allot and assign cases to benches but also said that this was not a sign of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues". Thus, though the CJI and his judgments carry equal weight as other senior judges, the only difference is when it comes to administrative powers. The four judges asked for some discretion to be exercised when it comes to performing these functions and adhere to the already well-settled and time-honoured rules which are in place to guide the CJI while dealing with the questions of strength or composition of the bench required in a matter. They also said that if these rules are not followed through then it shall create unpleasant consequences that shall challenge the integrity of the judiciary and thereby cause chaos.
This issue was highlighted after the controversial order passed in November 2017 in which Justice Dipak Misra declared that the Chief Justice "is the master of the roster" having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge. This order after a two-judge bench ordered that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the supreme court should be set up to initiate an independent probe into corruption case where in bribes were allegedly taken to settle cases pending before Supreme Court judges.
The second issue that the four judges mentioned without going into details in their press conference is that of the Justice Loya case where a PIL requesting probe in Justice Loya's death was pending. Justice Loya was hearing a case relating to the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in an alleged fake shootout in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused. His sudden and suspicious death had made his family seek an independent probe alleging that the death happened a few days after the judge received a bribe offer to acquit Shah. Interestingly, the judge who replaced Loya in the case acquitted Shah two weeks after Loya's death.
Another controversial issue the judges referred to was with regards to the delay in finalising the Memorandum of Procedure which is regarding appointment of judges. The judges said that when there is an issue with regard to the Memorandum of Procedure, it should be discussed in the Chief Justices' Conference and should be dealt by a constitution bench.
However, this act has received all kinds of reactions. Some condemned the same saying the issue should have been resolved by the judges amongst themselves and the media should not have been involved as it is a clash of personalities. Others applauded this and said that citizens have a right to know what is happening and cannot be kept in darkness. Some others called for an action to be taken by the parliament so as to regulate the powers of the Chief justice of India and device methods to sort out problems like this in the judiciary.
The justices said that they were "convinced that unless this institution is protected and maintains its requirements, democracy will not survive in the country or any country.” Independent and impartial judges are required to protect the nation and ensure that citizens’ rights are safe. Thus, though it is debated whether the step was right or not, one can wait and see how these issues are tackled now.