Transparency, Accountability in Judiciary Essential
New Delhi: Judges appointing judges, a system created by the Supreme Court in 1993 was akin to Gymkhana Club deciding on new members, quipped Arun Jaitley, Union Finance Minister, in October 2015. The Supreme Court had requested the Union government in December 2015 to prepare a ‘Memorandum of Procedure’ to properly run the system of Collegium.
In the meanwhile, Justice Chelameswar wrote a letter to the SC Chief Justice T S Thakur boycotting the Collegium meeting and questioning the lack of transparency in decision making process. He said no minutes of the meetings are prepared and no detailed note was circulated among the members of the Collegium, nor is it sent to the Union government. He charged that the Collegium has been promoting the kith and kin of the sitting and former judges of the Supreme Court or legal luminaries or their juniors.
The National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms (NLC), whose petition is under the consideration of the SC, said out of the 28 sitting judges of the SC at present, as many as nine happen to be close relatives of the former judges. Among them there is a sin, a nephew and a grandson of a former judge, it pointed out. Another is a son of a former chief minister. So far as the high courts are concerned one third of the judges surveyed happened to be close relatives of former judges or legal luminaries, the petition first filed in 2014-15 during the time when the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act (NJAC) was under the consideration of the SC. The data showed that 88 out of 300 HC judges surveyed fell under this category. If we deduct one third of the sample (roughly 100) who were promoted from the ranks of lower courts, the percentage of the judges who are directly promoted from the bar would be 50 percent.
Only seven lawyers have been elevated to SC bench directly from the bar since independence. Three of them (Rohinton Nariman, UU Lalit and K Nageswara Rao) were appointed during the last two years. The previous four were SM Sikri, SC Roy, Kuldip Singh and N Santosh Hegde.
There were occasions when the collegium committed mistakes which had to be corrected by dropping a judge after serving in on the bench for some months or years. Many mistakes were left uncorrected. NLC president Mathew Nedumpura informs that when they mentioned that many judges are relatives of the sitting judges or legal luminaries, Fali Nariman called them disgruntled people. Right connections make the difference in selection of judges, commented Nedumpura. NLC pleaded for creation of a Judicial Commission independent of judiciary.
Justice Chelameswar has become famous when he recorded his dissent not in the 4-1 judgment annulling the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act. He followed it up with a bold letter to the Chief Justice of India boycotting the collegium meeting.
A seminar organised at Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan in Sunday resolved to write to the CJI, the PM and the President requesting for more transparency and accountability. The seminar was attended by ASCI director Padmanabhaiah, former Tamil Nadu Governor Ramamohan Rao, former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court Justice Laxman Rao, former Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh Kaki Madhav Rao, senior journalist K Ramachandra Murthy and many other intellectuals of Hyderabad. They were of unanimous opinion that the collegium as it is functioning is not in the interest of judiciary in particular and the country in general.
Supreme Court Chief Justice TS Thakur said the members of the collegium would sort out the problem as though the issue is limited to the collegium. The issue, in fact, is of importance to the judiciary in the country and the citizens at large. A public debate is essential in this extremely critical issue in order to keep the hope of the people in judiciary alive.