Despite the Centre’s reservations, the Supreme Court Collegium has “reiterated” its decision to recommend Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph as an apex court judge. The Collegium also said that it had found “nothing adverse regarding” his “suitability” in two letters sent by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asking the Collegium to reconsider its decision.
The Collegium met on July 16 and said in its resolution: “The Collegium, on due consideration of all the aspects mentioned in the aforesaid two letters, resolves to reiterate the afore-mentioned recommendation, especially since nothing adverse regarding suitability of Mr Justice K M Joseph has been pointed out in the aforesaid letters.”
“We have carefully considered the observations made by the Law Minister in his letters dated 26th April, 2018 and 30th April, 2018 addressed to the Chief Justice of India referring back, for reconsideration, the recommendation made by us on 10th January, 2018 for appointment of Mr Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, as Judge of the Supreme Court.”
The Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri also recommended the names of Madras High Court Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Orissa High Court Chief Justice Vineet Saran as Supreme Court judges.
In the resolution, the Collegium said that “one of these vacancies is going to be filled up in terms of our recommendation for elevation of Mr Justice K M Joseph, which has separately been reiterated by us today”. The “separate” reiteration is significant because once the Collegium reiterates a name for elevation to the Supreme Court, the Centre is duty-bound to accept it.
Sources told The Indian Express that no additional names were considered by the Collegium for elevation to the Supreme Court and the decision to recommend the two names, and the reiteration of Justice Joseph was taken unanimously.
While the Collegium met and took the decisions on Monday, sources said that the delay in posting the resolution on the SC website Friday was because one consultee judge was on leave. A consultee judge is a Supreme Court judge, who is not a member of the Collegium but has served with the High Court Chief Justice being recommended for elevation.
The July 16 Collegium resolution also noted that more names were being recommended as the court was functioning with only 22 judges against a sanctioned strength of 31 “leaving 09 clear vacancies”. The Collegium had first recommended Justice K M Joseph to the Centre on January 10 along with Advocate Indu Malhotra. The Centre had accepted Justice Malhotra’s name and she was subsequently sworn in as a judge. But it returned Justice K M Joseph’s name on April 26.
Then, Law Minister Prasad had written two letters to CJI Misra, on April 26 and April 30, explaining the government’s decision to return the Collegium’s recommendation. Prasad had said that the proposal to elevate Justice Joseph was not in accordance with the Supreme Court’s selection parameters, and he was not the senior-most in the list of High Court judges.
The minister had also stated that there was adequate representation of Justice Joseph’s native state of Kerala in the apex court and that the Supreme Court needed judges from other courts. Elevating Justice Joseph, Prasad had said, would “not be fair and justified to other more senior, suitable and deserving Chief Justices and senior Puisne Judges of various High Courts.”
After the letters, there were indications that the Supreme Court would reiterate his name and force the Centre’s hand. Before the July 16 resolution, the Collegium had met on May 2 to reiterate his name “in principle” but no papers were sent to the Centre. Then, at another Collegium meeting on May 16, the “principle” was underlined but no resolution was passed.
The Collegium meetings in May included Justice J Chelameswar, who retired on June 22. Justice Sikri has replaced Justice Chelameswar. The delay in the government finalising Justice Joseph’s name had invited protests from some members of the Collegium. Critics have also linked the government’s decision to oppose Justice K M Joseph as he had overturned the President’s rule imposed by the Centre in Uttarakhand. Prasad has denied the charge.
The July 16 Collegium meeting also resolved to recommend Delhi High Court Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal as Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Acting Chief Justice of Kerala High Court Hrishikesh Roy as Chief Justice of the same court, Bombay High Court judge Justice V K Tahilramani as Chief Justice of Madras High Court (upon elevation of current Chief Justice Indira Banerjee to Supreme Court), Rajasthan High Court judge Justice K S Jhaveri as Chief Justice of Orissa High Court (upon elevation of its current Chief Justice Vineet Saran to the apex court) and Gujarat High Court judge Justice M R Shah as Chief Justice of Patna High Court.
Present Chief Justice of Patna High Court Justice Rajendra Menon will move to Delhi High Court, said the resolution.
The Collegium had, on January 10, recommended elevation of Calcutta High Court judge Justice Aniruddha Bose as Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. The Law Ministry, however, sent back the proposal. Upon reconsideration, the Collegium decided to recommend him for appointment as Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court.
The Collegium which recommended names for the various High Court comprises only the three most senior judges – CJI Misra and Justices Gogoi and Lokur.