#JudgmentReserved: Of the new Roster and assignment of case categories in Supreme Court

Bar & Bench February 18 2018
Judgment Reserved

The roster for fresh cases notified by the Supreme Court, with effect from February 5, is an exhaustive compilation of categories of cases, distributed among the 12 Benches of the Supreme Court.

The roster reveals that there are 42 broad subject categories. Of these, some are listed exclusively before only one Bench. There are 15 such categories.  They are as follows:

  1. Letter Petition & PIL: CJI
  2. Election Matters: CJI
  3. Habeas Corpus: CJI
  4. Appointment etc. of Constitutional Functionaries: CJI
  5. Statutory Appointments & Appointment of other Law Officers: CJI
  6. Commission of Enquiry: CJI
  7. Admiralty and Maritime Laws: Justice Jasti Chelameswar
  8. State Excise-Trading in Liquor- Privileges, Licences, Distilleries, Breweries: Justice Ranjan Gogoi
  9. Ecological Imbalance: Justice Madan B Lokur
  10. Mines and Minerals: Justice Madan B Lokur
  11. Appeals against orders of Statutory Bodies: Justice AK Sikri
  12. Academic Matters: Justice SA Bobde
  13. Admission Matters other than medical and engineering: Justice SA Bobde
  14. Admiralty and Maritime Law: Justice SA Bobde
  15. Allocation of 15 percent All India Quota in Admission/ Transfer to Medical Colleges: Justice Arun Mishra

Thus, only seven Judges have exclusive categories. While the Chief Justice comes first with six, Justice Bobde gets three exclusives, and Justice Lokur gets two. Justices Chelameswar, Gogoi, Sikri and Arun Mishra get one exclusive each.

A litigant or a counsel, whose case is falling under any of these categories can, therefore, easily predict, which Bench is likely to hear the case, unless one or more of the Judges on that Bench, recuse from hearing it.

Indeed, this is one argument being advanced by lawyers in the Supreme Court against making the roster system transparent, because it enables the counsel or the litigant to know the Bench in advance. As the number of presiding Judges hearing a particular category of cases increases, the probability of the cases falling under such categories, being heard by a particular bench alone decreases.

There are nine categories of cases listed before two Benches. They are Social Justice (CJI, Madan B Lokur J.), Arbitration (CJI, Rohinton Fali Nariman J.), Indirect Tax (Jasti Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi), Company Law & MRTP (Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Fali Nariman), Mercantile Law (Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Fali Nariman), Leases, Government Contracts, Contracts of Local bodies (Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Fali Nariman ), Rent Act (Justices Kurian Joseph and RK Agrawal), Establishment and Recognition of Educational Institutions (Justices Arun Mishra and Rohinton Fali Nariman), and Admission and Transfer to Engineering and Medical colleges (Justices SA Bobde and Arun Mishra).

There are five categories of cases listed before three Benches. They are Simple Money and Morgage (Jasti Chelameswar J., Ranjan Gogoi J., Justice AK Sikri J.), Judicial Officers (Jasti Chelameswar J., Ranjan Gogoi J., Adarsh Kumar Goel J.), Employees of Supreme Court/High Court/District Courts/Tribunals  and individual Judicial Officers (Jasti Chelameswar J., Ranjan Gogoi J., AK Goel J.), Armed Forces and Para Military Forces (Madan B Lokur J., AK Sikri J., Rohinton Fali Nariman J.), and Direct Tax (AK Sikri J., RK Agrawal J., Rohinton Fali Nariman J.).

There are four categories of cases assigned to four Benches. They are Contempt of Court (CJI, Ranjan Gogoi J., Kurian Joseph J., AK Sikri J.), Land Acquisition and Requisition (Jasti Chelameswar J., Madan B Lokur J., Arun Mishra J., AK Goel J.), Eviction under the Public Premises (Eviction) Act (Jasti Chelameswar J., AK Sikri J., RK Agrawal J., NV Ramana J.), and Consumer Protection Act (Jasti Chelameswar J., Madan B Lokur J., NV Ramana J., AK Goel J.).

Four categories of cases are before five Benches - Labour (Jasti Chelameswar J., Ranjan Gogoi J., Kurian Joseph J., RK Agrawal J., Arun Mishra J.), Compensation (Jasti Chelameswar J., SA Bobde J., NV Ramana J., AK Goel J., Rohinton Fali Nariman J.), Personal Law (Ranjan Gogoi J., Madan B Lokur J., Kurian Joseph J., AK Sikri J., NV Ramana J.), and Land Laws and Agricultural Tenancies (Jasti Chelameswar J., Madan B Lokur J., Kurian Joseph J., SA Bobde J., NV Ramana J.).

There are three categories assigned to six Benches. They are Family law (Kurian Joseph J., SA Bobde J., RK Agrawal J., NV Ramana J., Arun Mishra J., AK Goel J.), Religious & Charitable  Endowments (Ranjan Gogoi J., Madan B Lokur J., Kurian Joseph J., AK Sikri J., RK Agrawal J., NV Ramana J.), and Service Matters (CJI, Madan B Lokur J., Kurian Joseph J., RK Agrawal J., Arun Mishra J., AK Goel J.).

Only two categories find mention under most judges. Criminal Matters find mention under all the judges except Justices Lokur and Nariman. The category, Ordinary Civil Matter, finds mention under all judges except Justice Gogoi.

The suspense over sub-categories

The new roster appears to have made several changes to the one which had applied till February 2.  One major change is that earlier even sub-categories got allotted to different principal Judges. Now, with the sub-categories being subsumed under the broad categories, it is not clear which sub-category of cases will be heard by which principal judge.

Take for instance, Mercantile Laws, Commercial Transactions, including Banking. There are several sub-categories, under this. They are Partnership, Sale of Goods Act, Contract Act, Trade Marks/Copy Rights/Patents/Design Act, Negotiable Instruments Act, Banks mortgage disputes etc.  With Justices Gogoi and Nariman alone likely to hear this broad category of cases, how these sub-categories get allotted between them will be interesting to watch. Similar suspense is noticeable over sub-categories under the other broad categories, indicated on the roster.

It is pointed out, that the Delhi High Court’s roster is much more specific than the Supreme Court’s, and the roster is according to the benches, rather than the Presiding Judges.

Roster and the pending cases

The new roster appears to have made several changes to the one which had applied till February 2. Thus, of the 20 cases reserved during the week, starting from January 29 to February 2, it is noticed that the categories of five cases do not conform to the new roster. 

Thus, the Chief Justice, who heard compensation matters earlier, is unlikely to hear them under the new roster. Justice Madan B Lokur, who heard criminal matters earlier, will not have them listed before him under the new roster. Justice AK Sikri, who heard academic matters earlier, will not find them listed before him under the new roster, as they will be listed only before the Chief Justice and Justice Bobde. Justice Agrawal too has given up the category of Land Acquisition and Requisition matters, which he had heard earlier, under the previous roster.

Of the 20 cases, the Bench of justices Sikri and Ashok Bhushan reserved judgments in five. The Bench of justices Nariman and Navin Sinha reserved judgments in four cases. The CJI-led three-judge bench reserved judgments in three while the Benches of Justices RK Agrawal and AM Sapre and Justices Lokur and Deepak Gupta reserved judgments in two cases each.  The Benches presided by Justices Goel, Gogoi, Ramana and Bobde reserved judgments in one case each.

Seven of these judgments were delivered in the following week. Of the 21 judgments delivered during the week from January 29 to February 2, Justices Sikri and Kurian Joseph authored four each, while Justices DY Chandrachud, Nariman, Ashok Bhushan, and Ramana authored two each. Justices Deepak Gupta, Lokur, Navin Sinha, Goel, Lalit and AM Khanwilkar authored one judgment each.

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