Lawyers clash during hearing on NJAC

Backed by a number of states supporting the judicial appointment commission, the government’s top lawyer on Thursday clashed with the opponents of the new system in the Supreme Court over its demand for referring the challenge to a larger bench.

Heated exchanges took place between Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and senior counsel Fali S Nariman during the hearing on the challenge to the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act before a five-judge bench headed by Justice J S Khehar.

Eminent counsel K K Venugopal, K Parasaran and Ravindra K Srivastava, appearing for various states which have ratified the new law, favoured the plea of the Centre that the matter be sent to larger bench.

“Second Judges case (1993 verdict that brought the collegium system) was an instance of judicial legislation,” Venugopal said. Nariman, who is appearing on behalf of Supreme Court Advocates-on-record Association (SCAORA) and Rohatgi had an exchange of words on the issue of reference to a larger Bench.

Nariman said that the five-judge bench was entitled to hear the case completely.
“If you are asking for reference to a larger Bench, it means you accept that Second Judges case still stands; but you (AG) also contend that it has been wiped out by Article 124A. You can’t take both stands. Let this Bench hear the whole case and decide,” Nariman said, adding that when the arguments were advanced by the petitioners there was no word from the Centre that the matter has to be referred to a larger bench.

Rohatgi stood his ground saying that there was no bar on raising the issue as the other side had repeatedly referred to the 9-judge bench judgment which according to him suffered from defects.

The court is likely to hear the submissions till Friday on referring the bunch of pleas to a bench of either nine or 11 judges.

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