Former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A P Shah on Friday said the central government was blocking the appointment of “most deserving judge” Justice K M Joseph to the Supreme Court as recommended by the collegium.
He added the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court will be a “crucial test of office” for Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Justice Shah was speaking at the B G Verghese Memorial Lecture on ‘Chief Justice – First Among Equals.’
Pressing for the need of an immediate reform in the judiciary, he said: “The time has come to do away with the collegium system and relook at the opaque system that the judges have constructed for themselves. And most certainly, this is an opportunity to introduce reform in the allocation of cases. The role played by the CJI as master of the roster should be more consultative process than it is today,” Justice Shah said. “It would be wonderful if the present CJI would take up these issues. In any case, Justice (Ranjan) Gogoi has raised some of these questions, and if he is indeed next in line to the office of CJI, he must use his time to change these processes,” he said.
Referring to the process of appointment of judges, Shah said, “The Supreme Court had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) law,…but directed the Centre to revise the existing MoP…A two-judge bench in RP Luthra asked the Centre to explain why the MoP had not been finalised as yet. The four judges, who held the press conference, in their letter to the Chief Justice, said that a two-judge bench could not have dealt with a matter that was already decided by a five-judge Constitution. Besides, the allocation of the case to a two-judge bench and the events that occurred thereafter and even more recently in the last week when the government blocked the appointment of Justice K M Joseph – I must say he is the most deserving judge for elevation to the Supreme Court – the MoP is going to be a crucial test for the office of the Chief Justice, whether it is this one or the next.”
He also said their remain “concerns” over the roster that have been made public by the CJI. “After the press conference, the Chief Justice made public the roster for the Supreme Court. On the face of it, it is a step towards transparency. But on closer observation, a few concerns emerge. For example, he has kept all the PILs to himself, except social justice. As a result, all PILs, the appeals/SLPs against orders passed by High Courts in PILs will also go to the CJI, or the CJI will allot it to a bench of his choice. That is the essence of the roster which has been declared. More importantly, all accountability matters have all been kept with the CJI,” Shah said.
“In the present scenario, in the roster made public, we see that all four judges who made this public declaration are kept out of all important matters, be it the Ayodhya case, the Aadhaar matter, or the land acquisition row. While it is true that seniority is not the sole criterion, but seniority does matter,” Shah said.