The Centre has “initiated” a “process” to “evaluate” the performance of those recommended by the High Court collegium for appointment as judges of the court. This was conveyed in a note sent by the Department of Justice to Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha.
“Now the process of detailed scrutiny of proposals received for appointment of judges from High Court has been initiated,” said the note dated August 9, adding, “in the case of advocates, their reported judgements and in case of judicial officers, their case disposal time and number of adjournments are being evaluated by an in house team having legal background”.
The step is seen as an attempt by the government to do its due diligence even as the executive and judiciary remain engaged in their battle of turf over judicial appointments. “This is an internal effort by the government towards greater appraisal and scrutiny for better candidates in light of the Supreme Court’s own observations in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) matter and Justice C S Karnan case,” a government source said about the initiative.
The final decision on the appointments is taken by the Supreme Court collegium and the inputs provided by the government, including the result of the evaluation, will assist in the process.
Though the current mechanism for appointment of judges of the higher judiciary follows the collegium system, instances of alleged corruption and irregularities have brought the system under the scanner.
The BJP-led NDA government had made clear its intention to change this and in December 2014, the government had replaced the collegium system of appointments with the NJAC. But the Supreme Court struck this down in October 2015, noting that the political-executive cannot be given any hand in the judges’ appointment process.
That left the government with the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), which is prepared in consultation with the President and Chief Justice of India, in consonance with the directions of the apex court in the 1993 Second Judges case, wherein a nine-judge Constitution bench devised the collegium system of appointments.
Later, in December 2015, the Supreme Court allowed the government to “finalize the existing Memorandum of Procedure by supplementing it in consultation with the Chief Justice of India”. However, plans to revise the MoP have been caught in a logjam, with the Supreme Court objecting to some of the recommendations in the draft.
The government’s efforts to change the judicial appointments mechanism got a boost again recently after the July 4, 2017, verdict of the Supreme Court, wherein two judges of the seven-judge bench which convicted and sentenced Justice Karnan for contempt said in their judgement that the case “highlighted the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges”.
The August 9 note also referred to this view of the two judges and added that it brought out “the system’s failure of not providing an appropriate procedure of making assessment of the personality of the recommendees”.