New CJI hits back over collegium row: No secrecy in appointments
On the eve of assuming office as the Chief Justice of India, Justice P Sathasivam Thursday took the government head-on over its criticism of the collegium system of appointing judges and questioned the government’s own contribution to the system.
Last month, Law Minister Kapil Sibal had said that the experience with the collegium system had not been satisfactory and that the government should have a say in the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges as it was an equal stakeholder.
Sibal had also said his ministry would soon bring to the Cabinet a proposal to replace the existing collegium system with a new mechanism.
Speaking at the farewell ceremony of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Sathasivam sought to explain the modalities of the collegium system, describing it as “not a very rigid system.”
Denying any “secrecy” in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary through this system, Sathasivam said the state government and its governor are duly informed about the names of high court judges selected after consultation with the chief justice and two most senior judges of a high court.
He said a statement by the chief justice, along with records of the judges proposed to be elevated after the deliberation, are sent seeking objections, if any, from the government and governor.
“There is no secrecy in the matter of appointment. State government and the governor can have objections and all objections are attached before they are sent to the justice department for their comments,” he said.
Sathasivam, however, questioned how many times the government responded to such communication. “Although they say it is not working fine, but let them also respond in how many cases they have sent their comments,” he said.
“Collegium system is not very rigid. Union of India is free to offer remarks. It must not be vague. They will have to give reasons on suitability of a person. Tell me how many times state and central governments utilised this opportunity,” he added.
He also said that although the government had the prerogative to change the collegium system, it was not going to be an easy task in the view of the validity ascribed to this system by two constitution bench judgements.
“There is a 1993 seven-judge constitution bench judgement and then a nine-judge constitution bench judgement in 1998. Judicial decisions are already there and hence nobody can overrule the findings unless a larger constitution bench judgement is there or there is a constitutional amendment,” Sathasivam said.
While accepting the collegium system may have “one or two drawbacks,” Sathasivam said these deficiencies could be removed and that he, during his tenure, would make his best effort to do so.
The remarks came after Supreme Court Bar Association president M N Krishnamani appealed for reviewing the collegium system, arguing that it lacked transparency and also did not lay down a minimum criteria for selecting judges.