Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that “work” on finalising the “revised memorandum of procedure” — a guide for appointments to the higher judiciary — was still “in progress” but stressed that the delay had not affected judicial appointments.
“Revised MoP (is) being finalised in consultation with the Supreme Court Collegium,” he told reporters at a press conference called to announce the achievements of his ministry upon completion of three years of the Narendra Modi government. “On some issues, we have reached agreement (with the collegium),” the minister said, but declined to disclose the points on which differences remained.
When asked whether this had affected judicial appointments in any manner, Prasad answered in the negative and claimed that the highest number of judicial appointments was made in the last three years. “During the last three years, till May 2017, 17 judges in the Supreme Court and 232 judges in the High Courts were appointed. During 2016, 126 fresh appointments of judges (were made) in High Courts, the highest ever in a given year,” he said.
Appointments to the higher judiciary has remained a thorny issue between the Narendra Modi government and Supreme Court collegium, with the former favouring a National Judicial Appointments Commission. The National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, mooted to give shape to the commission, was struck down by the Supreme Court in October 2015. The court also directed the government to supplement the existing MoP (for appointments) in consultation with the CJI and SC collegium.
Prasad’s comments indicate that the differences between the two sides are yet to be resolved.
Regarding pendency of cases, Prasad said he had doubts about the exact number of pending cases and that he “will write to Chief Justices of all High Courts to do a physical verification’’ to ascertain the figure. He said he would also request the CJs to expedite cases pending for over 10 years. He said he had written to chief ministers to take steps to reduce pendency in cases where the government was one of the parties.
Prasad pointed out that he and the secretary of the justice department had written letters to the Chief Justices of High Courts in July 2014, December 2015, November 2016 and January 2017 to give representation to SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women while making recommendations for fresh appointments to the High Courts.
On corruption in the judiciary, the minister said the government did not want to play the role of adjudicator, and the judiciary must address the charges against it to ensure people’s trust. Asked about Justice C S Karnan, Prasad said he did not want to comment on individual cases except that “maybe there is a case for greater scrutiny and screening in the judiciary”.