While the NDA government’s maiden attempt to build consensus on replacing the “failed” collegium system for appointment of judges to higher judiciary saw jurists, policy makers and other stakeholders agreeing on the need to take a re-look at the existing system, almost all of them underlined the importance of ensuring that the Executive does not use this to assume control.
Speaking to the media after the four-hour-long meeting organised by the Law Ministry, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the participants felt that the collegium system of appointing judges has failed and hence needs to be changed.
According to sources present at the meeting, many felt that the collegium system has its shortcomings and should be replaced with a
Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) in order to ensure transparency and more effective appointments. The predominant view was that the judiciary should continue to have a major say in the proposed JAC, with only the Union Law Minister representing the Executive.
Constitution experts Fali Nariman and Soli Sorabjee said there should be no tinkering with the basic structure of the Constitution and any move to ignore the predominant voice of the judiciary in any proposed system would not stand judicial scrutiny.
Rohatgi said the time has come to deal with the matter with all seriousness.
Former Attorney General and Rajya Sabha MP K Parasaran said the 1993 verdict, which ushered in the collegium system, had rewritten the Constitution.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was also present, assured the jurists and others that the purpose behind the exercise was to ensure that there was more transparency in the appointment process so that better judges occupy the slots in higher judiciary.
He said it was not the government’s intention to revert to the pre-1993 system of appointments, when the government had a major say in the process. He also spoke about other reforms related to the judiciary, including the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill which the previous UPA government had brought.
Participants observed that issues like the process in which the proposed JAC would function, whether only unanimous recommendations would be accepted, whether the JAC’s recommendations would be binding on the government etc, needed to be discussed. Many said the government should first prepare a draft of what it proposes to do to change the system, and then seek the opinion of the stakeholders.
Prominent among those who attended today’s consultations were former chief justices A M Ahmadi and V N Khare, eminent lawyers K T S Tulsi, K K Venugopal, Law Commission of India Chairman Justice A P Shah, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar and former Delhi University Vice Chancellor Upendra Baxi.
Last week, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said the government was seeking the views of various political parties and eminent jurists on setting up a JAC which would replace the present system of judges appointing judges.