The Supreme Court collegium has cleared “every pending file” on appointments to higher judiciary. The names cleared by the collegium include lawyers and judicial officers. Sources said the collegium headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar held day-to-day sittings and cleared 90-odd names from among the pending names, while rejecting almost 40 per cent of the total names recommended by collegiums of various high courts, almost all of them for reasons of lack of integrity.
Names cleared include those recommended by high court collegiums as well as names previously cleared by the Supreme Court collegium but returned by the Centre for different reasons, including Intelligence Bureau (IB) inputs on the unsuitability of candidates.
Another important feature of the latest Supreme Court recommendation is that though the government is yet to take a final call on contentious clauses in the new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), the collegium has gone by the new MoP — as settled by the five-judge collegium sometime ago.
While the old MoP had no age criterion for appointments to higher judiciary, the collegium has gone by its unanimous recommendation to not recommend a lawyer below the age of 45 and above the age of 55 for appointment as judge of a high court. Similarly, in the case of pending names for elevation of district and sessions judges to high court benches, the collegium has gone by the maximum age cap of 58 and half years.
The age cap, incidentally, is one of the clauses in the draft MoP on which both the Supreme Court collegium and the Centre are on the same page.
As first reported by The Indian Express, the Supreme Court collegium, in its final meeting on March 10 on the issue of MoP, rejected every contentious clause that the government wanted included in the MoP, including the one that would have granted the government power to reject any name for appointment as a judge of the high court for reasons of “national security”.
In his letter to the Centre on March 13, conveying the collegium’s unanimous views, CJI Khehar had also said that these were the final views of the collegium in line with the judgment of the Supreme Court in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) case.
“While deciding the names, the collegium seems to have followed a new rulebook — drawn by itself. In cases where the IB gave adverse inputs about the integrity of candidates, the collegium rejected the names. But in cases where the IB commented on the professional capability of the candidates, the SC collegium overlooked the inputs. The inference that can be drawn is that judges are better placed to know about the legal acumen of candidates than IB officers,” a source said.
Within days of sending back the “final” draft of the new MoP to the government, the SC collegium started the process of clearing pending cases, first sending 43 names to the government for processing, followed by another batch comprising about 45 names. It is learnt that the government has already started processing some of the names that were part of the first bunch.