Bill tabled in LS to axe collegium for selecting judges

Bill tabled in LS to axe collegium for selecting judges

Constitutional status for panel proposed

Bill tabled in LS to axe collegium for selecting judges

The government on Monday introduced a Constitution amendment bill along with the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill, 2014, in the Lok Sabha to establish a six-member body for appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and high courts in a move to end the collegium system.

Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad placed before the House the Constitution (121st Amendment) Bill, 2014 along with the NJAC bill, a move that aims to give the composition of the commission a constitutional status to ensure that future governments do not tweak it through an ordinary legislation with a simple majority.  Passage of a constitutional amendment bill requires two-third majority.

The amendment bill seeks to establish the proposed commission, its composition and functions and stipulates provisions by adding three new Articles to the Constitution —124 A, 124 B and 124 C— after Article 124. It says Parliament may regulate the procedure for the appointment of judges.

The NJAC bill lays down the procedures to be followed by the commission in the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice of India (CJI) as well as transfer and appointment of chief justices and other judges of the high courts.  It also provides for a time-frame to initiate the process of filling up of vacancies in the higher judiciary.

According to the constitutional amendment bill, the CJI will be the ex-officio chairperson of the proposed NJAC and two other senior judges of the apex court, next to the CJI, will be its ex officio members. While the Union Law and Justice Minister will also be an ex-officio member, a committee comprising the prime minister, the CJI and the leader of the Opposition (LoP) will nominate two eminent persons as members of the statutory panel.

Though the Congress has not got the minimum 10 per cent seats of the sanctioned strength of the Lok Sabha to secure the LoP post, it will have a role to play as the government has brought in a provision in the constitutional amendment bill to consider such a political situation. The bill stipulates that when there is no LoP, the leader of single largest opposition party will be the part of the three-member committee that nominates two eminent persons.

“One eminent person shall be appointed from amongst the persons belonging to the scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes, other backward classes, minorities or women,” the bill says.  Eminent persons, who will be nominated for a period of three years, will not be eligible for re-nomination.

Before introducing the two bills in the Lok Sabha, the government withdrew a bill which was introduced by the previous UPA government last year in the Rajya Sabha to establish a commission for appointments in higher judiciary.

“No act or proceedings of the NJAC shall be questioned or be invalidated merely on the ground of the existence of any vacancy or defect in the constitution of the commission,” the bill says, adding that the NJAC shall not recommend a person for appointment if any of its two members do not agree to it.