Apex court rejects pleas against judicial appointments panel

Apex court rejects pleas against judicial appointments panel

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed several petitions, including one filed by noted jurist Fali S Nariman, which challenged the 121st Constitutional Amendment Bill and the setting up of a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).

The petitioners contended that the bills, passed by Parliament earlier this month to set up a judicial appointments commission and scrap the collegium system of appointing judges, were unconstitutional and interfered with the independence of the judiciary.

A three-judge bench comprising Justices A R Dave, J Chelameswar and A K Sikri, however, termed the arguments in as many as five petitions “premature” and said the issues would be raised at an appropriate time.

“It is premature at this stage. We still do not know what will happen,” the bench said, while taking up as many as five different PILs in a hearing that lasted over an hour. 

The apex court concurred with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who argued that the bills did not warrant any action as yet since they still need the assent of the President and ratification from more than 50 per cent of the state assemblies to become a reality.

“Everything is inchoate at this stage. The bills are undergoing the legislative process. To say the court should examine those bills at a stage when President’s assent is yet to come would be premature. It would be stalling the Parliament process,” Rohatgi said.

Senior advocate Nariman, appearing for the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, argued that it was absolutely essential to examine the matter as the appointment of judges was being affected. “Today, the NJAC bill has been passed. How does the Chief Justice of India sit in the collegium? There is a hiatus. How will a judge get appointed,” he asked.

Nariman buttressed his argument with a petition filed by advocate M L Sharma, who contended that Parliament could not pass the bills in question without amending Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution, which relate to the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges. “Parliament is not empowered to pass the law without amending both the Articles. It is totally illegal,” he said. 

Rohatgi countered this argument by saying that there would not be any hiatus. “If a judge is to be appointed, it will happen as per the (existing) process,” he said.

Nariman cited Article 368, which empowers Parliament to amend the Constitution, and contended that legislations affecting the independence of the judiciary could not be passed. The top jurist also urged the Supreme Court to refer the question of whether bills could be put to judicial review to a five-judge Constitution bench.

Disagreeing with Nariman, the apex court rejected Sharma’s petition, as well as those filed by former additional solicitor general Bishwajit Bhattacharya, advocates R K Kapoor, R Krishnamurthy and N Rajaraman.

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