Government Attempt To Slash Powers Of Collegium

New Delhi : The government has sought to drastically reduce the powers of the collegium in selection of the High Court judges and their elevation to the Supreme Court by suggesting the appointments only after consultations with all judges and vetting of the candidates by a panel of retired judges.

In a revised proposal on the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) sent to the Chief Justice of India early this month on the appointment of the judges in the higher judiciary, the government has claimed that its suggestions were based on a constitution bench’s mandate to ensure “transparency and accountability” and prevent “persons with questionable integrity” from occupying court posts.

It has claimed that a lengthy process for the selection, instead of the collegium picking up the new judges, will facilitate filtering to select the best talent for the judiciary. Though the CJI has not commented officially, the law ministry has been communicated that the draft MoP is clearly aimed at circumventing judgments of three constitution benches in 1993,

1998 and 2015, vesting primacy to the collegium headed by the CJI in appointments, transfers and elevation of the judges. Ever since the constitution bench shot down the National Judicial Appointments Commission last October, the collegium and the government are engaged in working out a new procedure for appointments in the courts, but the procedures so far suggested by the government have been rejected by the judiciary. This has delayed appointments of 312 new judges. Last week, CJI T. S. Thakur threatened to break the “logjam” through a judicial order, giving time till September 13 to the government.

The new proposals submitted by the government in August suggest that all judges of the High Courts, not just the collegium, must be consulted in selection of the judges; also, separate panels of retired judges be set up in each high court to vet the names before they go before the high court collegium, headed by the chief justice and two of his senior-most judges.

They further envisage that the names cleared by the high court collegium will go before another committee of the retired Supreme Court judges to make a “stringent appraisal and evaluation” before they are taken up for approval by the Supreme Court collegium of the CJI and two of his senior-most judges.  Stopping short of suggesting reservations in the higher judiciary, the government’s draft MoP suggests that women and persons from SC/ST communities should be elevated to the high court and the Supreme Court without rigidly insisting on seniority.

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