Major cases and the collegium: a study

Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s role as Master of the Roster was called into question by the other four judges in the Supreme Court collegium in January. While their complaint was about cases being “assigned selectively” to benches of “preference”, how have members of the collegium been represented in major cases (those with bench sizes of three or more)? A look at the numbers since January 1999, when the collegium was expanded to five judges, is revealing. It shows that the representation of collegium members other than the CJI — that is, those ranked two to five — is among the lowest during Chief Justice Misra’s term. Until January 12, when Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph held their unprecedented press conference, collegium members (two to five) were involved only in 29.3% of the judgments delivered. Of the 17 CJIs since January 1999, it was only during Justice G.B Pattanaik’s term as CJI that the representation of the four collegium members was less. At 29.2%, it was less only by the smallest of fractions. Also, Justice Pattanaik was CJI only for just a little over a month, during which 24 judgments with benches of three or more judges were delivered. At the other end of the spectrum, former CJIs H.L. Dattu (68%), R.M. Lodha (67.5%), K.G. Balakrishnan (55.1%) and A.S. Anand (63.5%) used other collegium members most in cases involving three judges or more, going by the judgment percentages. In Justice Misra’s case, the involvement of other collegium judges increased after the January 12 press conference; overall, as of July 31, it went up to 33.9%. A comparative assessment of Chief Justices in terms of involvement of other collegium members in judgments involving bench sizes of three or more is presented in the accompanying table.

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