Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

SC invites suggestions from public for a better collegium

Suggestions may be submitted on the website of the law ministry's department of justice till 5pm on 13 November

The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday invited members of the general public to suggest ways to improve the current judicial appointments system, in which a group of senior most SC judges select judges to the apex court and the high courts.

Suggestions may be submitted on the website of the law ministry’s department of justice till 5pm on 13 November, a five-judge bench headed by Justice J.S. Khehar said. They will be added to the set of suggestions submitted in the court on Thursday.

The court also allowed the Bar Council of India, which is the apex body of all state bar councils, to gather suggestions from state bar councils and submit them for the court’s consideration.

SC on 16 October struck down the proposed National Judicial Appointments Commission, a panel proposed to be headed by the Chief Justice of India to replace the collegium system. However, the court also invited suggestions from the legal community on ways to improve the current system. The suggestions must be confined to the four parameters of transparency, eligibility criteria, a collegium secretariat and handling complaints against the candidates.

Additional solicitor general Pinky Anand and senior advocate Arvind Datar on Thursday submitted to the court a set of suggestions received till 23:45pm on 3 November. A compilation report and a chart including suggestions from senior advocates Fali S. Nariman, K.K Venugopal and Ram Jethmalani, Bar Association of India, Prof. Upendra Baxi, Supreme Court Women Lawyers’ Association and Lawyers’ Collective, a human rights NGO, among others.

“We have received suggestions from 60 representatives. We have managed to tabulate these suggestions as per the four defined parameters and have created another category called miscellaneous for the suggestions that did not fit into any of the set parameters." said Datar, representing the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCORA)

Under the first category, suggestions included that the criteria for applicability such as age, income and academic qualification must be made available on the Supreme Court website. Another request was for a standard questionnaire to be filled by all candidates.

Another suggestion noted that too much transparency may be counter-productive to the process of appointments and a fair balance must be sought to ensure confidence in the process.

The option of subjecting developments at collegium meetings to the Right to Information Act was also suggested to increase transparency.

Under the parameter of eligibility, it was submitted that a screening committee must be put in place to handle the large number of applications and a special representation given to those doing legal aid and pro bono cases. Additionally, more number of women were sought to be appointed as judges. Quota reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other backward classes in the collegium was another suggestion.

It was suggested that the secretariat to be established must be accorded the same status as the SC registry and no practising lawyer should be made a part of this body.

The central government, on its part, suggested that complaints received against candidates could be handled by a panel of retired judges.

Considering the large number of stakeholders who wished to place their suggestions within the limited time, the bench decided to accept the suggestion of Mukul Rohtagi, Attorney General of India (AG), to put up the compilation report on the law ministry website.

The bench held that it would hear the matter on two more days, 18 and 19 November, before concluding, and only the legal counsels chosen by a committee consisting of the Attorney General of India, the chairman of Bar Council of India and Fali S. Nariman would be heard on these dates.

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