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Govt MUST have say in appointment of judges: Sibal

June 02, 2013 19:24 IST

The Collegium system of appointing judges has not worked out as per expectations and the government must have a say in such appointments, Law Minister Kapil Sibal has said.

He said he would "very soon" move a proposal in the Cabinet to replace the Collegium system with the Judicial Appointment Commission, which will give a say to the Executive in the appointments of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts.

"We do not think that the Collegium system has worked to our expectations. I don't think it even worked to the expectations of the judiciary," Sibal told PTI in an interview while justifying the need for scrapping the system.

Sibal, who took charge of the law ministry in May, said the objective of the government and the judiciary is to have the best people as judges, who must be chosen with complete transparency and objectivity and there must be broad-based consultations.

"Just as judges have enormous stake in the appointment of judicial officers in the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and the 24 high courts), the government has an equal stake.
Since both of us have stakes in the appointment of members of the higher judiciary, the consultation of both of them is absolutely necessary. The government must have a say," he emphasised.

Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir recently strongly defended the Collegium system, saying appointments to the higher judiciary are made after "intense deliberations".

When referred to the judiciary’s objections to changing the system, the law minister said, "We know the views (of the judiciary). We will take them that into account. Again, laws must be acceptable by and large to the stakeholders, that includes the judiciary, it includes the executive, it includes all the players in the field of dispensation of justice," he said.

The practice of judges appointing judges started after 1993, replacing the system of the government picking judges for the Supreme Court and high courts.

According to the government proposal, a six-member Judicial Appointments Commission headed by the Chief Justice of India, with the law minister as a representative of the government, would be set up to select judges for the higher courts.

The JAC will also have two judges of the Supreme Court, two eminent jurists nominated by the President as members. The government is open to include the Leader of Opposition in the Commission.

The proposal to replace the present system of Collegium appointing judges will require a Constitutional amendment.

The Collegium is a five-member body headed by the chief justice of India and includes four other senior-most judges. The proposal was on the agenda of the Union Cabinet on April 18, but could not be taken up.

Sibal said he would strive to "give life" to the various law ministry bills pending in Parliament by getting them enacted. These include the Judicial Standards Accountability

"The government is very keen for the law to be passed and I think the time is ripe," he said while talking about the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill which has been in the pipeline for quite some time.

"I think the opposition is on board. They also want the law to be passed," he added.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill deals with complaints against Supreme Court and high court judges.

A judge, who makes oral comments against another constitutional authority or individuals, would be liable for judicial misconduct, according to a clause of the bill passed in the Lok Sabha.

"We will give it life by enacting it. I take decisions as quickly as possible and a lot of work has already been done. I thank all the previous law ministers who have done yeoman's work and I am taking the benefit of that work and hope to push it forward," he said.

Asked about the hurdles he is facing while getting the bills passed, Sibal said he has not yet been confronted with any hurdle.

"I think a little bit of tinkering here and there will resolve all issues, these are minor issues. I think the opposition is on board. They also want the law to be passed. The government is very keen for the law to be passed and I think the time is ripe," he said.

Nilesh Bhagat and Ajay Kaul
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