Chief Justice of India (CJI) Tirath Singh Thakur has circulated a list of names of judges to be elevated to the Supreme Court among the collegium member justices. This is the first time in the history of the independent judiciary that ever since the collegium system was introduced by the Top Court that such a list has been circulated among collegium members instead of the list being discussed in person among the members.
Sources said that the CJI “this time” does not want another controversy raised by Justice J Chalameswar who wrote to the CJI that the collegium selection process is “opaque” and nobody could record any opinion about the shortlisted candidates. The sources said that “this will now take care of the criticism so that any member judge of the collegium could now record his or her opinion. Hence, this time, the shortlisted names will be cleared by circulation”. This is expected to give a free hand to the collegium members who could now record their views on a person being elevated to the Supreme Court.
CJI Thakur intends to initiate the process of appointing some top court judges before he demits office in January 2017 as the current strength of the Supreme Court is 28 now against a sanctioned strength of 31. But four more judges are scheduled to retire by the end of this year and for the first time the CJI and four next senior judges would not sit together to finalise the names but would finalise it by circulation of a list of names of judges.
Although the ‘collegium’ system of judges appointing judges has of late invited a strong criticism, a recent letter of Justice Chalameswar, himself a sitting member of the collegium, to the CJI stirred the hornet’s nest. Justice Chalameswar called the system “opaque” and pointed out that not a single word of discussion takes place and the shortlisted names are just okayed.
Earlier, the central government brought the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) which was struck down as “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court thereby paving the way for perpetuating the collegium system. The Apex Court had also a couple of days back dismissed another Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a “public independent” body to appoint judges. With this, the last challenge to the collegium system, too, has been dismissed.
Some time ago, the government drafted a procedure known as the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) under which the selected judges are scrutinized by the government and returned to the CJI with comments on the rejection of a particular candidate to be elevated as a judge to the higher judiciary. The CJI has reportedly said on the sidelines of a function that the MoP has been almost finalized and would soon be approved.