A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Friday junked an order by its two-judge bench directing that a five-judge Constitution bench hear case regarding the judges bribery scandal. Rejecting the earlier order, the bench said the CJI alone has power to decide what bench should hear the matter. The two-judge bench had directed the five-judge bench, comprising senior-most judges, to probe allegations of bribes being paid to allegedly influence verdicts in the top court.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which assembled urgently at 3 PM, said neither a two-judge, nor a three-judge bench can direct the CJI to constitute a specific bench. The bench, also comprising Justices R K Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar, annulled yesterday’s order of the bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer directing the constitution of a bench of five senior-most judges of the apex court to hear the matter.
The larger bench took strong exception to the order passed by the two-judge bench and said no bench can take up a matter unless allocated by the CJI who “is the master of the court.” The CJI-headed bench said allocation of matters by the CJI was the principle of law, judicial discipline and the decorum of the court.
Issuing the order, a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra cited a 1998 order of the apex court that held that the Chief Justice of a High Court will be the Master of Rolls and assign cases to different benches.
The Justice Misra-headed bench said any order contrary to the 1998 judgement would be inactive in law and shall not be binding.
Extending the same principle, the bench said Chief Justice of India is the "Master of Rolls" in the top court and any order passed by any bench assigning any matter to itself or directing the composition of benches won't be binding.
The order came a day after the two-judge bench led by Justice Chelameswar, the senior-most judge after the Chief Justice of India, ordered the setting up of a five-judge bench to hear on Monday a corruption case involving former Orissa High Court judge, I.M. Quddusi.
Quddusi, an Orissa High Court judge between 2004 and 2010, is alleged to have helped a private medical college to admit students to MBBS courses despite the Supreme Court barring the institutes from doing so.
The judge was arrested in September and is lodged in Tihar Jail here after CBI accused him of guiding the private medical college and assuring its management of favourable settlement of their cases in the Supreme Court.
A petition filed by Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal on Thursday sought an investigation into the case by a court-monitored Special Investigation Team. The petition was taken up for hearing by the bench headed by Justice Chelameswar.
Jaiswal's petition was filed even as a plea by the NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms seeking a similar probe in the case was already listed before the bench headed by Justice A.K. Sikri.
The court said the two petitions will be heard by an appropriate bench after two weeks and there will be no more hearing in the case till then.
Earlier, the Court took exception to the manner in which a second petition was filed, and was heard by another bench.
Taking exception to the manner the second petition was filed and entertained by the bench headed by Justice J. Chelameswar, the bench of Justice Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan asked advocate Prashant Bhushan as to what was the urgency.
Making it clear that they were not underestimating the seriousness of the matter, the court in its order said that let the appropriate order be passed to tag the petition by the NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms with the one by advocate Kamini Jaiswal, which was referred to a five-judges constitution bench on Thursday by the bench of Justice Chelameswar and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer.
Pleading ignorance about the second petition that was filed by Kamini Jaiswal, Bhushan said that since the allegations were in respect of the matter heard by the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, he should not have exercised his administrative and judicial authority.
Referring to the FIR filed by the CBI in the matter, Bhushan said, "Whole conspiracy was to bribe the bench hearing the (medical college) matter". At this, Justice Sikri said that whether the Chief Justice should have dealt with the matter or stayed away should have been left to him.
"The request that the Chief Justice should not deal with the matter should have been made to him. He should have decided," said Justice Sikri.
Expressing its displeasure, the court on Friday allowed the Supreme Court Bar Association to implead itself in the matter before the five-judges bench.
The CJI told advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for NGO ‘Campaign for Judicial Accountability’ and advocate Kamini Jaiswal, that he has levelled “wild allegations” against him (Justice Misra) in a matter in which CBI had lodged a corruption case. Upset with the CJI, Prashant Bhushan then walked out of court complaining he was not being given chance to speak.
Earlier in the day, the matter was listed before a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, which had referred it before the five-judge bench as ordered yesterday by a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar. The bench termed the allegations of bribes taken in the name of judges as “very serious” and asserted that no one would be allowed to “impure the stream of justice.” The two-judge bench has said that nobody can undermine the importance of the case.
“CBI has raided and the case is lodged. No one can undermine the importance of this case. This matter is very serious. Our endeavour is that nobody impures the stream of justice. Whoever, how mighty he is, cannot evade law. Justice needs to be delivered,” the bench said.
The matter relates to the CBI investigation into a Orissa High Court judge assuring a Lucknow-based medical college set up by a trust to get round the court order not to admit students for two academic years - 2017-2018 and 2018-2019.
(With TIE, PTI,IANS inputs)