New Delhi: Two months after quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the Supreme Court on Wednesday left the task of bringing in a new memorandum of procedure (MoP) for appointments of the higher judiciary to the government.
The MoP, a document framed by the government, lays down the process of how judicial appointments to the Supreme Court and high courts take place.
A bench comprising justices J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Goel outlined broad guidelines based on which the government can amend the MoP.
The court said the government will finalise the MoP after supplementing suggestions from the chief justice of India, which include the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court collegium.
The court also said the government could lay down eligibility criteria like the minimum age for judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court. These criteria would be published on the respective websites of the courts as well as the website of the department of justice.
For transparency, the court said, the dissenting opinion of judges in the collegium could be recorded. However, confidentiality had to be maintained regarding these documents.
Further, the court proposed that a permanent secretariat could be established for each high court and the apex court to assist the collegium in making the appointment process easier.
The government could also consider making provisions for interactions of candidates in consideration with the collegium, the court said.
Additionally, a mechanism for recording complaints against possible candidates could be established.
The Supreme Court had on 19 November reserved its order on improving the collegium system, under which a small group of senior judges make appointments to the higher judiciary. It did not stop the collegium from making appointments in the interim.
On 16 October, a five-judge constitution bench of judges rejected the government’s plans to revamp the manner of judicial appointments in the country. Striking down a constitutional amendment which introduced a six-member panel, consisting of the chief justice of India, two senior most judges of the apex court, the law minister and two eminent persons, the court said the collegium system stood restored. However, it sought suggestions from lawyers, the government, stakeholders and members of the civil society on improving the existing system.
The bench had asked lawyer Arvind Datar and additional solicitor general Pinky Anand to compile suggestions sent to the court, identifying four areas (including transparency) to improve the collegium system. The court received about 1,500 suggestions, running into 11,000 pages.
The NJAC verdict, as the 16 October judgment has come to be known, has faced criticism from many fronts, including Parliament recently.
The collegium has its task cut out for itself. The apex court vacancies will stand at five when the court reopens on 4 January, with justice Vikramajit Sen’s last working day being Wednesday.
Nearly 400 vacancies remain across high courts, recommendations for which are also sent by the collegium.