By Sumit Saxena
New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) The Centre and the judiciary friction over the collegium system for appointment of judges seems to be far from over, as former Supreme Court judges have vehemently criticized Law Minister Kiren Rijiju for his comments against the collegium system.
Fierce criticism by the judges has not deterred Rijiju from voicing out his opinion on the collegium system and recently in a media interaction, he said the Supreme Court collegium publishing inputs of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and intelligence bureau (IB) on candidates recommended by the collegium for judgeship, is a matter of grave concern.
In an interview to a news channel, Rijiju said the appointment of judges is a sensitive issue, which we cannot discuss on public platforms and emphasized that he cannot discuss the process, but can say, the government takes its considered decision carefully and follows a policy.
Former Supreme Court judge justice Rohinton Nariman, at a public event, slammed the Law Minister for his “diatribe” against the collegium system for appointment of judges.
Justice Nariman said, “This sitting on names is a very deadly thing against the democracy of this country. Because what you are merely doing is you are waiting for a particular collegium and hoping that the next collegium changes its mind…” Justice Nariman was part of the Supreme Court collegium till he retired in August 2021.
Similarly, former Supreme Court judge justice Madan B. Lokur, in an interview to a news website earlier this month, said the justification given by the law minister for his suggestions — that 2015 apex court judgment “directed to restructure the Memorandum of Procedure of the collegium system” — is “flawed”.
Justice Lokur, who was also a former member of the Supreme Court collegium, called the law minister’s suggestions “unacceptable” and, if implemented, would “damage and undermine the independence of the judiciary”.
Similarly, Justice Nariman had also emphasized what would be the independence of judiciary if judges, who are fearless and independent are not being appointed. He said, “If you don’t have fearless and independent judges, say goodbye…There is nothing left…As a matter of fact, according to me if finally, this last bastion falls or was to fall we would enter the abyss of a new dark age”.
In December last year, a Supreme Court bench of three-judges headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and comprising justices Abhay S. Oka and Vikram Nath told the Attorney General R. Venkataramani that just because there are some sections of the society who express a view against the collegium system, it will not cease to be the law of the land.
The top court had also deplored Centre sitting on files of candidates recommended by the collegium for judgeship. And, on January 6, the Supreme Court told the Attorney General (AG) R. Venkataramani elevation of lawyers, picked up by the collegium for appointment as judges, should not be objected merely due to their point of view, and a court must reflect different philosophies and points of view.
The Law Minister, in the interview, said that when it was said from the Supreme Court bench that the government is sitting on files, then, in a democracy, it becomes necessary for him to reply. He stressed that the government does not sit on files normally, rather it follows the process as required.
The apex court collegium published resolutions reiterating names of some advocates for judgeship in various high courts. The apex court cited inputs by RAW and IB on candidates, whose files were returned by the Centre to the collegium for reconsideration.
In a statement, in connection with appointment of openly gay lawyer Saurabh Kripal as a judge of the Delhi High Court, the collegium said: “From the letters of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) dated 11 April 2019 and 18 March 2021, it appears that there are two objections to the recommendation which was made by the collegium of this court on 11 November 2021 approving the name of Saurabh Kirpal namely: (i) the partner of Saurabh Kirpal is a Swiss National, and (ii) he is in an intimate relationship and is open about his sexual orientation”.
Reiterating Kripal’s name, the collegium said there is no reason to pre-suppose that the partner of the candidate, who is a Swiss National, would be inimically disposed to our country, since the country of his origin is a friendly nation.
“Many persons in high positions, including present and past holders of constitutional offices, have and have had spouses who are foreign nationals,” the collegium added.