CJI should be appointed by selection, says ex SC judge

He called for enforcing strict tranparency and accountability in the appointment and elevation of judges and functioning of the collegium system to eradicate corruption in the judiciary.

"The appointment of the Chief Justice of India who is considered to be the most powerful person in the country should be strictly by a pure and simple processs of selection and not seniority," he said while delivering the keynote address at the Dr Kailas Nath Katju Memorial Lecture 2011.

Recalling his experience as a judge of the apex court, Justice Singh said that about eight seniormost judges of the Supreme Court were elevated as Chief Justices of India despite facing charges.

"One of them was last year awarded the Padma Vibhushan," he said amidst laughter among the audience. Justice Singh also said that in one instance when he was also a part of the then collegium, a particular judge of the Kerala High Court was elevated as Chief Justice of the High Court without his knowledge. It was something which should not have been done, he said.

He observed that "corrupt in this country are promoted not imprisoned." The former apex court judge lamented that despite two decades of collegium system in the country, the judiciary had failed to evolve a transparent and accountable system of appointments.

He said nobody knows today why a particular judge is transferred or elevated. "Transparency is very important," he said and cited the recent episode involving Sikkim Chief Justice P D Dinakaran whose elevation was stalled after allegations of land grabbing and charges of misconduct surfaced against him.

Expressing anguish at growing corruption in the country, Justice Singh said, "Earlier bribe was paid to get wrong things done, but today bribe is paid even to get right things done, at right time."

Advocating early passage of the judicial accountability bill, he said judges should not be unduly apprehensive about the legislation.

"It is high time you got accountability in judiciary," Singh said while pointing out that
"India is seen as a grim picture of corruption" in the rest of the world.

Former Chief Justice of India J S Verma said the real strength of judiciary was public confidence and there ought to be more transparency and accountability of judges.

"More transparency would lead to greater public confidence in the judiciary," he said. Justice Verma said judges should not be averse to transparency as their primary function of adjudication is done in transparent manner like hearing the matters in the open court, passing judgements which are subjected to fair criticism and public scrutiny.

When the primary function can be subjected to scrutiny, why not the functioning of the collegium system and judges' appointments, which are secondary functions, be made transparent and accountable, he asked.

"Why not people should know how judges are appointed. Entire correspondence be on record and available for public scrutiny," he said. Referring to the recent public response on the Jan Lokpal Bill, Justice Verma said the development was on account of the failure of the internal mechanism of administration.

"The Government's response was fair. Public anger has to be channelised in the right direction; it should not be allowed to be destructive," he cautioned.

Eminent lawyer K K Venugopal suggested the setting up of four "regional courts" in the country to act as an appellate body over the High Court. He said the Supreme Court should deal only with vital questions of law and important Constitutional disputes.

Venugopal said it was unfortunate that the Supreme Court today was overburdened with a plethora of cases which include matrimonial, rent control and other petty disputes.

As a result of the overburden, "each of the 14 benches of the Supreme Court today was giving inconsistent and conflicting judgements."

He wanted death sentence cases to be heard by a minimum of five judges as capital punishment once executed cannot be reversed. Venugopal cited an instance of a pension dispute of 1998 from Andhra Pradesh involving the aspirations of over 1.45 lakh pensioners. He regretted that even though the dispute is yet to be adjudicated, 45,000 of the pensioners have already died.

The senior counsel said that presently about 754 cases are pending adjudication before larger benches. Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu newspaper N Ram said the judiciary compared to the other institutions like Legislature and Executive score "relatively high marks."

Cautioning that it should not become a "super legislature, " said perhaps in no other country of the world, the judiciary has a self appointment process. He hoped the present judicial accountability bill would address the concern.

Ram felt that criminal defamation provision in the statute was an unreasonable constraint on the freedom of expression and speech. He said it showed intolerance to the criticism.

Supreme Court judge Justice Markandeya Katju and noted film producer and director Mahesh Bhatt were also present.

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