The government has received various ‘representations’ on the lack of transparency, objectivity and social diversity in the Collegium system of appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
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In a written reply, Mr. Rijiju said the government had sent suggestions for supplementing the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court. MoP is a document which guides the appointment and transfer of judges in the higher judiciary.
The Law Minister made these remarks in response to a question by CPI(M) member John Brittas, who asked if the government was planning to re-introduce the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
Mr. Rijiju said the government had brought the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the NJAC Act on April 13, 2015 to make the collegium system of appointments of judges “more broad-based, transparent, accountable and bring objectivity in the system”. However, both the Acts were challenged in the Supreme Court which eventually declared both the laws as unconstitutional and void on October 16, 2015.
“Representations from diverse sources on lack of transparency, objectivity and social diversity in the collegium system of appointment of judges to the constitutional courts [Supreme Court and the High Courts] have been received from time to time with the request to improve this system of appointment of judges. The government has sent suggestions for supplementing the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court,” Mr. Rijiju said.
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On December 8, in response to a written question by Mr. Brittas and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr. Rijiju had said there was no plan to bring back the NJAC with suitable modifications. “No sir, at present there is no such proposal,” he had said.
The subtle change in the government’s stances reflect the recent run-ins between the government and the Supreme Court over a number of issues, including appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
Apart from regularly targeting the judiciary, Mr. Rijiju recently told the Rajya Sabha that the issue of vacancies in the higher judiciary will linger till a new system of appointment is created. Earlier this month, Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar had also criticised the judiciary for scrapping the NJAC Bill that sought to change the system of judicial appointments.
The top court too had not only expressed its displeasure over delay in appointments but also over the remarks made by high authorities.
‘Bid to delegitimise judiciary’
Commenting on the friction with the judiciary, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had said on Wednesday, “A troubling new development is the calculated attempt underway to delegitimise the judiciary. Ministers — and even a high constitutional authority — have been enlisted to making speeches attacking the judiciary on various grounds”.
“It is quite clear that this is not an effort to provide reasonable suggestions for improvement. Rather, it is an effort to reduce the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of the public,” she added.
Amid such a stand-off between the judiciary and the government, a parliamentary panel had recently asked the Executive and the Judiciary to come up with an “out of box thinking” to deal with the “perennial problem” of vacancies in High Courts.
The Committee had also expressed “surprise” that the top court and the government had failed to arrive at a consensus on revision of the MoP for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts in the seven years.
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