Refusing to “sweep inside the carpet” the controversy over the appointment of judges to the Madras High Court, the Supreme Court on Tuesday favoured a proper forum to address the grievances of lawyers over selection through the existing collegium system.
“Should there not be a forum to redress their grievances? Their grievances may be right or wrong, but there should be a forum to address it… there must be some forum where genuine grievances by the lawyers should be addressed. After all, they are a part of this institution and they can also have an opinion on suitability and eligibility,” observed a Bench led by Justice B S Chauhan.
The Bench, also comprising Justices J Chelameswar and M Y Eqbal, rejected a plea to dispose of the case on the ground of it turning infructuous after the Supreme Court collegium, headed by CJI P Sathasivam, returned the list of 12 names that were earlier recommended for appointment as Judges.
Earlier, during a hearing of a lawyers’ petition against the selection criteria in Madras HC, a sitting Judge of the HC, Justice C S Karnan, had walked into the courtroom and openly expressed his disappointment over the selection.
After the HC directed status quo in the appointment of the 12 judges, the Registrar General of the Madras HC appealed against it. The Supreme Court later stayed the HC order.
However, after the SC collegium sent back the names for reconsideration by the HC, the petitioner lawyers requested the Bench to give a quietus to the matter since they wished to withdrew their petition. But the Bench turned down the request, saying, “It is not a matter that we will sweep inside the carpet. It is not an issue that we would want to dispose of on the ground of technicality. We would want to hear it. All these things have happened in an open court.”
Subsequently, appearing for the HC, Attorney General G E Vahanvati apprised the Bench that the collegium had withdrawn the list, stating that the then HC Chief Justice, R K Agrawal, was now elevated to the apex court. The letter to the law ministry said since Justice Agrawal had been elevated as a Judge of the SC, the names should be considered afresh by the new Chief Justice.
But the Bench questioned this decision as well. “Is it a ground? We want to know can this be a ground for sending the list for reconsideration? We find it a little difficult to understand the logic. How can Chief Justice’s elevation be a ground?”
When ASG L N Rao, appearing for the SC, sought to argue that no lawyer had a right to be considered for appointment as a Judge, the Bench sent a message to the apex court as well. “The biggest responsibility is yours. You are the custodian of the Constitution. You must understand what is the feeling of the country,” it said.
It said the collegium had a “duty” to consider everyone to ensure wider representation from all sections of the
On the issue of a particular community not having even a single member as a Judge in the Madras HC, the Bench wondered whether it was a “sheer accident” or if the community failed to produce even one competent lawyer.
“We are not going to decide by sitting here who will be selected. We only say consider everyone and appoint whosoever is eligible,” said the Bench, while reserving the verdict on the appeal.