A day after the NDA government introduced the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, in the Lok Sabha, former Law Minister Kapil Sibal said on Tuesday that there are “serious problems” with the Bill, and the courts would certainly be called upon to look at its “constitutionality”.
Breaking his silence on the issue, Sibal told The Indian Express, “I don’t want to comment on the specific provisions of the Bill that this government has introduced. But I do believe there are serious problems with it. I firmly believe that any system that you put in place — whether you look at the system prior to the 1993 judgment (Advocates on record versus Union of India which ushered in the collegium system) or the system that came after the judgment — only works well if those who are charged with the responsibility of making it work do their jobs properly. Otherwise, any system is bound to fail.”
The senior lawyer, who earlier appeared in the second judges’ case that established the collegium system, said, “The judiciary would be called upon to look at the entire legislation, clause by clause, see if it meets the criteria of independence of the judiciary, the foundation stone of a vibrant democracy. This, I believe, is a basic feature of the Constitution. A judicial determination will have to be made on this issue.”
Asked to spell out the problem areas in the Bill, Sibal said, “The main issue relates to independence of the judiciary. This Bill allows two members of the proposed NJAC to scuttle the appointment of an individual. How can you give veto power to any two members of the NJAC? Such a provision can be misused. Then there is the matter of unanimous reiteration if the President refers the names back for recommendation. Just one member can, through his veto, veto any appointment. The Executive may, through this veto power, reject names till it gets an appointment of its choice.”
Sibal clarified that he was speaking as a lawyer and citizen of the country, and not as a Congress leader. He added that he wasn’t sure if members of the proposed body would have the time to look into selections and transfers of high court judges.
Asked if this Bill wasn’t similar to the one that he, as Law Minister, wanted to get passed, he replied, “Where was the veto in my Bill? You can’t be so casual while dealing with the institution of judiciary. Serious thinking needs to be done in such matters. I wonder why the government is in such a hurry to rush and get the Bill passed?”
Asked how the problems in selections to higher judiciary could be resolved, he said, “To begin with, the continued…