Sunday, March 3, 2024

Dushyant Dave writes to CJI, objects to change of benches in sensitive cases before Supreme Court

Adding to the row of controversies on judicial appointments, former Supreme Court Bar Association president and Senior Lawyer Dushyant Dave has written to Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud expressing discontent over the recent listing of sensitive cases pending before the Supreme Court. 

The senior counsel says that immediate action is needed as ‘sensitive cases’ are being relisted by the SC Registry.

In the open letter addressed to the CJI, Dave criticised the new pattern of listing in which many cases which were being heard by certain benches were shifted out and listed before other benches. 

He argued that it is a violation of the Supreme Court Rules and the Handbook on Practice and Procedure of the Court which govern listing of cases.

“I have personally come across a number of cases listed before various Hon’ble Benches upon first listing and/ or in which notice have been issued, being taken away from those Hon’ble Benches and listed before other Hon’ble Benches. Despite first coram being available the matters are being listed before a Hon’ble Benches in which second coram presides. Matters listed before Court No. 2, 4, 6, 7 amongst others have been shifted out and listed before other Hon’ble Benches in clear disregard of the Rules, the Handbook on Practice and Office Procedure referred above and established Practice and Convention,” he wrote.

Despite the presence of senior judges, he alleged that numerous cases were transferred from their original benches and subsequently assigned to other benches, which he said, contradicts the rules and the regular practice.

The senior lawyer said the power of the CJI as master of the roster was both unique and extraordinary. Nevertheless, the CJI can only exercise the power as per the practice and in case the coram as per roster is available the Chief Justice cannot exercise power to take away any case before the available coram and place it before another.

“This is an extraordinary power to upset the roster and to ‘pick and choose’ and allocate and assign any appeal or cause or matter to any judge or judges of the court. However, the Chief Justice can only exercise the power as per the practice, and in case the coram as per roster is available. The Chief Justice cannot exercise power to take away any case before the available coram and place it before another,” the letter said.

Though he mentioned he would not want to identify the cases by name as they were still pending before the court, Dave said “it would not be out of place to mention that these matters include some sensitive matters involving human rights, freedom of speech, democracy, and functioning of statutory and constitutional institutions”.

Dave further stated that Justice Chandrachud’s appointment as Chief Justice had created “strong hopes in the minds of citizens that under your leadership, the Supreme Court of India will rise to greater heights, the march towards which has somehow paused for some time earlier. The scars caused on account of such improprieties in the past few years on justice delivery have not healed as yet”.

He ended the letter with these remarks:

“Sir, this does not augur well for the Institution of Supreme Court of India under your Leadership. The Institution is highly respected by all. That respect must continue forever, in all respects. I would therefore urge you to look into this immediately and take corrective measures.”

The letter is crucial as on Tuesday, Justice S.K. Kaul had been asked why the case concerning the delay by the Central government in notifying appointment of judges recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium was deleted from the cause list.   

In response, Justice Kaul has made it clear that he had no role in the deletion. However, he hinted that the CJI might be aware of the deletion and suggested that “certain matters are better left unsaid.”

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