New Delhi: The tussle between the judiciary and the government over the appointment of judges keeps making headlines with both sides maintaining their sides. Now, in a fresh development, Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud has said that not every system is perfect, but the current Collegium system is the “best” mechanism developed by the judiciary to maintain its independence, reported PTI.
Interestingly, Justice Chandrachud made the comments hours after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, from the same platform, that as per Constitution the appointment of judges is the duty of the government. They were speaking at the India Today Conclave, 2023. According to PTI, Rijiju also said the appointment of judges was not a judicial work but “purely administrative in nature”.
CJI Chandrachud’s predecessor Justice UU Lalit also backed the Collegium process, adding that it was the “ideal system” whereas another former CJI, S A Bobde favoured primacy of the judiciary but opined that the government’s view was vital. The two former CJIs were also speaking at the same event.
“As the Chief Justice, I have to take the system as it is given to us… I am not saying every system is perfect but this is the best system we have developed. The object of this system was to maintain independence which is a cardinal value. We have to insulate the judiciary from outside influences if the judiciary has to be independent. That is the underlying feature of Collegium,” Justice Chandrachud said, as quoted by PTI.
Kiren Rijiju’s Remarks
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju raised questions on the Collegium system and termed it a result of the “misadventure” of the Congress party. He said there was no role of the judiciary as such to initiate and to give finalisation to the appointment of judges.
“It was only later due to the misadventure of the Congress party, the Supreme Court started acting, which some people describe as judicial overreach. Then the collegium system came into existence,” the minister said.
But right now, he added as per PTI, the position of the government is very clear that the collegium system is in place.
“As long as a new system is not introduced, we will follow the collegium system but the appointment of judges cannot be done by a judicial order. It is purely administrative.” Rijiju said it is the bounden duty of the government to carry out due diligence on the names recommended by the collegium. “Otherwise I’ll be sitting there as a post master. Secondly, as per Constitution, the appointment of judges is the duty of the government,” he said at the event, quoted PTI.
Furthermore, on the relationship between the judiciary and the government, Rijiju said it would not be proper to use the word “confrontation” to define the same.
According to PTI, he said, “In a democratic setup there are differences of opinions and positions. “Between different organs — the executive, the judiciary and the legislature — there will be issues which run against each other’s ideas. But to say that there is a confrontation is not correct.”
On the matter of the Supreme Court Collegium making public intelligence reports with regard to some candidates recommended for high court judgeship, Rijiju asserted what the sanctity is of carrying out such a great effort in secrecy in the interest of the nation if reports of R&AW or IB are put in the public domain.
“I am mindful of my responsibility. I’ll never ever put in public domain information which will not serve the purpose for which we are sitting there,” he said, as per PTI.
What Judges Said
CJI Chandrachud also responded to Rijiju’s displeasure over the Collegium. He said, “He has a perception. I have a perception and there is bound to be a difference of perceptions. And what’s wrong in having a difference of perceptions. We have to deal with perceptions even within the judiciary. I dare say there is a difference of perception within the government. But we all deal with it with a sense of robust statesmanship.”
“I do not want to join issues with the law minister for his perception. I respect his perception and I am sure he has respect for ours as well. The reason why we put this on the SC website is the desire of the present Collegium to meet the criticism that we lack transparency and a genuine belief that opening of the processes will foster greater confidence in the citizens,” Justice Chandrachud said, quoted PTI.
Addressing the Collegium row, Justice UU Lalit emphasised that the collegium system enables the selection of judges by a body that is reviewing performances at the “grass-roots”. He said that the process of recommendation by the top court body is through a consultative route.
He said that while recommending a judge, not only the performance but the opinion of other judges as well as IB report is also considered in the process. Justice Lalit added that a new regime of appointment can only be “put in place in a manner known to law”.
He further added, quoted PTI, “According to me, collegium system is the ideal system… You have persons whose entire profile is seen by the high court. Not by 1-2 persons but by repeatedly as an institution. Similarly, advocates who practice before high courts; the judges who form the body, they see their performances every day. So who are supposed to be better positioned to see merit of the talent? Somebody sitting as an executive here or somebody who is seeing the grass root level performance, say in Kochi or Manipur or Andhra or Ahmedabad?”