New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought the assistance of attorney general K.K. Venugopal on a petition challenging the administrative powers of the chief justice of India regarding allocation of cases.

This is the first instance of the apex court showing a willingness to hear a challenge to the chief justice’s absolute power in allocation of cases to various benches.

On 11 April, a bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra dismissed a plea challenging his prerogative to allot cases and decide composition of benches of the apex court.

The petition on Friday was heard by a bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan. Justice J. Chelameswar, who has publicly criticized the administrative powers of the chief justice, had refused to hear the matter on Thursday.

The plea filed by Shanti Bhushan, a senior advocate and former law minister, and his son, Prashant Bhushan, called for the authority to allocate important and sensitive cases to be extended to the Supreme Court’s four senior-most judges, apart from the chief justice.

This is not a workable option, said justice Sikri, “It will not be feasible to interpret that the ‘chief justice of India’ could mean the entire collegium (five senior judges). How can five senior judges of the Supreme Court sit everyday or twice a week to allot cases," he said.

The chief justice is at the “helm of the institution" and is conferred with authority under the Constitution to take decisions on allotment of cases, justice D.Y. Chandrachud said on Wednesday. “There should not be a presumption of mistrust in the discharge of duties by the chief justice," he added.

Reiterating that the chief justice was the “master of the roster" and sole authority to decide on allotment of cases, the court went on to say, “As a repository of constitutional trust, the chief justice is an institution in himself. The authority is entrusted to the chief justice because such an entrustment of functions is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the court."

The matter will be heard next on 27 April.

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