The Supreme Court of India’s ‘Collegium’ method of judges appointing judges which has been criticized as “opaque” by a sitting judge and member of the Collegium itself, Justice J. Chelameswar, has taken another turn with the Apex Court slating for hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to set up an “independent public body” without members from the executive and the judiciary.
The petition by the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms (NLC) through its Joint Secretary, Advocate A.C. Philip, has made the Supreme Court itself as the main party and is scheduled for hearing on September 19. Advocate Mathews Nedumpara, the architect and the sheet anchor of this organization, says “What is paramount today is a system of appointment of judges independent of both the executive and the judiciary”. In a scathing attack on the current method of selection and appointment of judges, Mathews says “it is nepotism… common deserving lawyers are usually not considered for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary”.
What may shock the conscience of the citizen is that for the first time the petition alleges the involvement of “big industrial houses” in the selection process of judges of the higher and highest judiciary. “The existing system has appointed the kith and kin of sitting and former Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, their juniors, celebrated lawyers, those close to Chief Ministers and Governors and a few first generation lawyers who are all politically connected or are close to big industrial houses.”
The National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) was held “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court in a recent judgment. The Commission was the first effort of the Narendra Modi government relating to the judiciary but was held as an “interference” in the affairs of the independent judiciary and thus the “Collegium system” continues. Under this, four or five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) forming the “Collegium” select judges to the higher judiciary. This has of late come under severe criticism as it is not transparent and veiled in secrecy. Justice Chelameswar’s much-publicized letter to the CJI and his open remarks have added fuel to the fire of raging controversy. This is the first time a sitting judge and a member of the collegium itself has come against it.
Nedumpara says the “kith and kin of judges are conduits in many deals and huge money changed hands and stashed abroad… in some cases, they are also invested in areas like private airports…. But not a single FIR could be lodged and no effort to bring back such money from abroad to the country”. This assumes shocking significance in the wake of the ongoing controversy over bringing back black money stashed abroad. It would indeed open another can of worms.
Nedumpara also points out that the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2012 introduced in Parliament, remained in “cold storage” as the judges were not “forthcoming to welcome” it.
The petition names Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad in the BJP, and Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Chidambaram of the Congress as the ‘legal opinion makers’ in the respective political party and hence a proper political will could not be created for establishing a system of fair selection of judges. It says now judges rule the country and make orders on even domains belonging to the executive and the legislature.
Advertisement of vacancies of judges, the invitation of applications, open and transparent selection process, creation of a Judicial Ombudsman, eradication of the “Uncle Judge Syndrome” are other aspects of this petition. Under the Judicial Standards and Accountability bill, this Judicial Ombudsman has been enshrined but it is yet to see the light of the day.