Supreme Court refuses to delay judges’ appointment

AG pleads that the court should not lend its judicial weight to the PILs   on the appointments, but deal with the matter on the administrative side

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi pleaded that the court should not lend its judicial weight to the PILs on the appointments, but deal with the matter on the administrative side.

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the Centre’s plea not to hear a batch of petitions seeking appointment of the High Court judges, but adjourned the hearing for a month even while Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi sought adjournment for at least two months to give time to the government to sort out the matters.

Rohatgi pleaded that the court should not lend its judicial weight to the PILs on the appointments, but deal with the matter on the administrative side. The Bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice N.V.Ramana, however, rejected the plea to stop “parallel proceedings” on delay in the judicial appointments, saying “we cannot run away from our own cause when they (citizens) are projecting the cause of the judiciary.”

Telling the court that government was cognizant of the issue of Judicial appointments, the Attorney General said the government had sent the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) to then CJI (Justice Thakur) about six months back and so far it has not received any response. He said once MoP is finalised, the issue of the appointment of judges too would be resolved.

The matter had attracted great media and public scrutiny when the earlier Bench, presided by then Chief Justice T S Thakur, had heard the case and pulled up the government on numerous occasions. It had even threatened to summon the Secretary from Prime Minister’s office. CJI Khehar, who had struck down the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act, was hearing the case for the first time after taking over as the Chief Justice.

He rejected the plea to dismiss the PILs, noting that once the court has already entertained the petitions, it cannot act out. “Once the petitions have been entertained, whether to grant them or not… This question will be answered by us in a formal order. We will give the order. We cannot treat petitions like this at this stage in a slipshod manner,” the CJI told the Attorney General.

Rohatgi said all problems on the delay would end if the draft Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) would be finalised. The government and the Supreme Court Collegium, then led by then CJI Justice Thakur, had serious differences on several issues regarding the MoP draft, including that the AG should be consulted on judicial appointments. The last draft was handed over by the government to the collegium in August for finalisation.

“It (MoP) has been pending for the last six months. Once work on MoP is finished, a large number of problems would be over,” Rohatgi submitted.

Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who is one of the petitioners, intervened; saying that delay in judicial appointments was not the only demand in his petition as he had also sought to double the number of judges in the courts to combat pendency.

The PILs were taken up by ex-Justice Thakur’s court last year and has been at the centre of various stinging remarks aimed at the government for dealing judges” appointments. In one unprecedented moment, then Chief Justice Thakur had accused the government of trying to “grind the judiciary to a halt” by stymieing judicial appointments process.

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