Judge who sided with PM backs out of UK post offer

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge AK Sikri, who sided with PM Modi in a three-member committee that ousted CBI Director Alok Verma, has turned down a plum post-retirement posting in London, a position to which he was nominated by the Modi Government in November. Justice Sikri decided to back out hours after it was reported that he has agreed to be India’s nominee on the Commonwealth arbitration panel, a posting that has a four year tenure and involves frequent trips to London.

The news report of the Modi government giving him the prestigious posting led to questions being asked about whether the government was “rewarding” Justice Sikri for a “favour,” speculation which Sikri has described as wholly misleading. Justice Sikri, who retires on March 6, was also distressed by some reports which, by innuendo, seemed to link his London posting to the 2:1 vote caste against Verma in the 3-member committee.

Following the controversy, Sikri chose to withdraw his consent for the London job, sources close to him were quoted as saying by India Today.com Sikri was nominated by the government in November last year. In the first week of December 2018, the government reportedly secured Sikri’s consent, orally, for the vacancy in the Commonwealth arbitration panel. According The Print, which first broke the story, the government had secured the concurrence of Chief Justice Gogoi as well before the nomination was filed.

Significantly, at the time of the nomination, the Supreme Court was seized of the Alok Verma case, in which the then director of the Central Bureau of Investigation had challenged the government’s attempt to oust him. The judge’s posting was a “prestige appointment “, and did not carry any remuneration, sources close to Sikri were cited as saying.

However, the timing of the nomination has raised eyebrows in legal circles. Advocate Indira Jaising, who is the former additional solicitor general of India, took to social media to ask why information regarding the nomination had not been disclosed before Justice Sikri was made part of the select committee that ultimately removed Alok Verma as CBI chief.

“Justice Sikri should have disclosed this before he sat on the committee as the nominee of the Chief Justice of India, the decision is vitiated for this reason also,” Jaising asked in a tweet. In 2012, the Manmohan Singh government drew some criticism in legal circles for nominating a sitting Supreme Court judge, Dalveer Bhandari, to the International Court of Justice.

In 2014, Prime Minister Modi raised eyebrows when he made Justice P. Sathasivam, who had retired as Chief Justice of India earlier that year, governor of Kerala. Prior to that, no former CJI had ever been nominated for, or accepted, a governorship, points out news portal The Wire.

A petition seeking a mandatory cooling off period for judges before they can be eligible for government-backed jobs was struck down by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu in October 2014. However, his predecessor as CJI, Justice R.M. Lodha, observed on his last day in office that Supreme Court and high court judges should not accept constitutional positions after retirement, says The Wire. Born on March 7, 1954, Sikri was sworn in as a Supreme Court judge on April 12, 2013. He earlier served as the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The CSAT has a complement of eight members comprising the President and seven others. The members are selected by Commonwealth governments on a regionally representative basis from among persons of high moral character who must hold or have held high judicial office in a Commonwealth country. The members are appointed on a four-year term which may be renewed only once.

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