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No need to change collegium system, says CJI-designate

July 03, 2013 14:39 IST

There is no need for changing the present collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary nor the impeachment provisions in the Constitution, says Chief Justice of India designate Justice P Sathasivam.

However, judiciary is open to any good suggestions or measures to improve the present system of appointment, he says dismissing criticism that it is not transparent and that the government has no role in it.

While agreeing with the government that it was not in a position to "select" the judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court, he feels the only way the system can be changed is for the government to seek a review of its two crucial judgements in this regard or go for a constitutional amendment.

Justice Sathasivam admits that there is corruption in the judiciary, like other organs of the State, but "it is negligible".

Strongly defending the impeachment provisions of the Constitution, he says there is a need for strong protection for judges of higher judiciary from flimsy complaints and attempts at removal.

However, he admits there is a lacuna in the in-house mechanism to sort out the problem of removing corrupt judges and it would be better to improve this system to see that the rotten eggs are removed, according to the judge who will take over as CJI on July 19.

"It is not correct to say that there is no transparency and that government has no role (in appointment of judges). The government has enough role," he told PTI in an interview.

Justice Sathasivam was replying to a question about the government moves to bring laws that would give a say to the executive in selecting and appointing judges of High Courts and Supreme Court. By a judgement in 1993, the Supreme Court ushered in a collegium system of appointments that kept the government away.

Under the present system, the chief justice of the high courts recommend names of prospective judges in consultation with two seniormost judges, while in the case of Supreme Court it is CJI plus four seniormost judges.

After this, Justice Sathasivam said, the proposal goes through various channels like seeking comments from Centre, chief ministers, governors and intelligence agencies for verification, vetting and their comments.

"The chief minister has to give remarks, the governor is entitled to give his opinion, the Centre gives its comments and the Intelligence Bureau does the verification of candidates, their political affinity, if any, their character," he said.

Opinion of judges outside the collegium as well as from independent people, including eminent personalities, are also sought. "The only grievance is that they (government) cannot select the candidates," he said.

Justifying why the present system is workable, the CJI designate said the members of the collegium reach the position after a lot of experience, read the judgements of the prospective judges in case of elevation and also interact with the judiciary and bar in states, frequently, to gain personal knowledge of the situation.

"I am not underestimating their (government) capacity, but we are in a better position (to select judges)," he said.

Citing the judgements given by benches that included late Justice J S Verma in 1993 and the one subsequently in 1998, Justice Sathasivam said these are valued treatises on the subject and it is very difficult to ignore them.

"Only God or a larger bench can change these judgements. The government has to seek review of the judgements or it has to amend the Constitution," he said.

However, he said, "We are not opposing it (government). If the government suggests some good measures, we are ready to accept it. They have to do it in the manner as required by law. We are ready to accept good suggestions."

On corruption in judiciary, Justice Sathasivam said, "If we compare judiciary with other organs of the State, like executive and legislature, it is negligible. There are remedies. There is a mechanism to deal with complaints filed against judges."

He would not agree with the view that the present impeachment provisions are heavily weighed in favour of judiciary.

"Judges have onerous tasks to perform. They cannot be removed like people in ordinary jobs. They need constitutional protection from frivolous complaints and moves," he said.

However, he had a word of counsel for members of judiciary. "Judges must be aware of their Constitutional obligations and their responsibilities to the citizens. If anyone violates the code of conduct, then it is open to high courts and Supreme Court to take remedial action."

Image: Justice P Sathasivam

Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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