New Delhi: Union Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju on Wednesday expressed reservations about a Supreme Court judgment handed down in April this year that prescribed a timetable for the central government to appoint high courts.
Referring to the judgment delivered by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde (now retired) and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant, Rijiju said the verdict introduced a timeline judiciary for high court appointments, although there were none. provision set forth in the Protocol of Procedure (MoP) – a regulation followed to deal with appointments to the HCs and the Supreme Court.
Rijiju made the statement to the Lok Sabha during the tabling of the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill 2021, which adds an explanatory clause to the bill. initial legislation to specify at what age a retired judge is entitled to receive pension benefits.
He was responding to questions raised about the delayed nominations by opposition members, including Trinamool Congress leader Kalyan Banerjee, who on Tuesday asked a specific question about an SC college-authorized name for Calcutta HC.
Rijiju refrained from responding to Banerjee, but added: “It is not wise to stick to a schedule for a particular name of judges. It will not set the right precedent.
During SC’s April verdict, Rijiju said the top court had, for the first time, set a deadline for judicial appointments. “MoP doesn’t say anywhere that we have to appoint judges within a fixed number of days, it’s not mentioned. In the Mahanadi case, to which I referred, the court for the first time said that appointments had to be approved in three to four weeks. Now this is a larger issue, not part of the MoP, but if SC gives a direction we have to take a call and that’s why I make the House happy.
Rijiju added that one cannot ask the government how long a name can remain pending, as the nomination process takes time.
However, the minister assured the House that if a name is withheld, there are valid reasons.
“Don’t Challenge Justice”
The verdict from the three-judge bench in April set a court timetable for appointments, underscoring the need to facilitate the larger cause of dispensation of justice. This was done to address the shortcomings of the R2P which does not set a deadline for the government to complete its task of verifying and notifying nominations.
The judgment said the government should forward recommendations for HC appointments to the SC college within 18 weeks of its receipt by the HC college. The SC college must clear all names within four weeks, after which the Center must notify the nominations. However, if the Center chooses to return the names, it must do so with specific reasons. And, in case the college reiterates the names, the April verdict held the same should be named within three to four weeks.
Without dwelling too much on the April verdict, Rijiju said that he was not challenging the judiciary, but that he wanted Parliament to consider the provisions of the Constitution, since the judgment had introduced something that is not part of the MoP.
Dismissing allegations that the Center interferes with judicial appointments and transfers, Rijiju said the SC college is responsible for selecting judges. At the same time, however, the government, he added, cannot be a silent spectator and must perform its task of carrying out thorough background checks on applicants with due diligence.
He looked a bit at the evolution of the college system, which was introduced by two Supreme Court court decisions. Prior to both decisions, he told the House, the government had primacy over appointments, but the judiciary was part of the consultation process. It was constitutional.
He claimed that before 1993, when the collegiate system became effective, some “good judges” were appointed to the top bench. “That we all know,” added the minister, while reading a few names.
Rijiju explained that it is impossible to have 100% membership in the high courts and that some seats will always remain vacant.
“At the moment, I can definitely say that the nomination process is going smoothly, from the government side there is no effort to scuttle or create any kind of slowdown (in the nomination process). There is no correct to say that the government stops the names (sent by the college),” Rijiju told the House.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
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