Govt must have say in appointment of judges to higher courts: Sibal

Govt must have say in appointment of judges to higher courts: Sibal

A proposal to replace the 20-year-old collegium system of appointing judges with a “Judicial Appointment Commission” will be moved “very soon” before the Cabinet, Law Minister Kapil Sibal has said.

Once cleared, the new system will pave the way for the executive to have a say in the appointments of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts.

Sibal said the collegium system of appointing judges has not met the expectations and the government must have a say in such appointments.

“We do not think that the collegium system has worked to our expectations. I don’t think it even worked to the expectations of the judiciary,” Sibal said in an interview while justifying the need for scrapping the system.

Sibal, who took charge of the Law Ministry last month, said the objective of the government and the judiciary is to have the best people as judges who must be chosen with complete transparency and objectivity and there must be broadbased consultations.

“Just as judges have enormous stake in the appointment of judicial officers in the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and the 24 High Courts), the government has an equal stake. Since both of us have stakes in the appointment of members of the higher judiciary, the consultation of both of them is absolutely necessary. Government must have a say,” he emphasised.

Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir recently strongly defended the Collegium system, saying appointments to the higher judiciary are made after “intense deliberations”.

When referred to the judiciary’s objections to changing the system, the law minister said: “We know the views (of the judiciary). We will take that into account. Again, laws must be acceptable by and large to the stakeholders, that includes the judiciary, it includes the executive, it includes all the players in the field of dispensation of justice,” he said.

Under the government proposal, a six-member Judicial Appointments Commission headed by the Chief Justice of India with the law minister as a representative of the government would be set up to select judges for the higher courts.

The JAC will also have two judges of the Supreme Court, two eminent jurists nominated by the President as members. The government is open to include the Leader of Opposition in the Commission.

Collegium system

The proposal to replace the present system of Collegium appointing judges will require a Constitutional amendment.

The practice of judges appointing judges started after 1993, with the Collegium replacing the system of government picking judges for higher judiciary comprising the Supreme Court and high courts.

The collegium is a five-member body headed by the chief justice of India and includes four other senior-most judges. The proposal was on the agenda of the Union Cabinet on April 18, but could not be taken up.

Sibal said he would strive to "give life" to the various Law Ministry bills pending in Parliament by getting them enacted. These include the Judicial Standards Accountability Bill.

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