‘As CJI had not allocated case, Bench had no jurisdiction on issue’
Advocate Prashant Bhushan on Monday sought the recall of a contempt notice issued against him by a Supreme Court Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra on petitions filed by Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and the Central government.
Mr. Bhushan argued that the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha had no jurisdiction to entertain the contempt petitions. The petitions were mentioned before Justice Mishra’s Bench by completely “bypassing” the Chief Justice India, who is the master of the roster.
Action over tweets
The noted civil rights lawyer is facing contempt of court charges for his tweets on February 1 in connection with a PIL filed by his client, NGO Common Cause, on the appointment of former interim CBI Director M. Nageshwar Rao. He had alleged in his tweets that efforts were made by the government to “mislead” the court.
Though the Bench of Justice Mishra and Navin Sinha upheld Mr. Rao’s appointment, they decided to take up the back-to-back contempt pleas filed by Mr. Venugopal and the government against Mr. Bhushan.
On Monday, Mr. Bhushan seems to have decided to take on the challenge head-long.
CJI’s undisputed role
In an application filed through his counsel Kamini Jaiswal, Mr. Bhushan said the Attorney-General mentioned the contempt plea directly before the Mishra Bench. No effort was made to mention the contempt before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. Neither was the CJI’s consent taken.
The application referred to a Constitution Bench decision in the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms case, which had upheld the CJI’s undisputed role as the ‘master of roster’ with exclusive powers to take up cases and allocate them to Benches in the apex court. The Constitution Bench had ruled that no judge in the Supreme Court could allocate cases to themselves.
Mr. Bhushan recalled how the Constitution Bench, which declared the CJI as master of roster, was set up after Justice Chelameswar (now retired) had listed the Lucknow medical scam case to himself and then went on to order a five-judge Bench of the senior most judges of the Supreme Court to hear it.
Mr. Bhushan said Justice Arun Mishra was a member of that Constitution Bench which declared the CJI as master of roster.
Besides that, the noted civil rights lawyer said criminal contempt petitions are stand-alone matters and could not have been tagged with the Nageshwar Rao PIL. Again, Mr. Bhushan argued that the criminal contempt jurisdiction in the Supreme Court, as per the roster, could be listed only before three Benches — that of the CJI, Justice A.K. Sikri and Justices U.U. Lalit.