Responding to criticism of the Supreme Court collegium, Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud on Friday asserted it was wrong to say it has no factual data to evaluate the candidates being considered for appointment as judges of the top court and high courts.
Delivering the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture, the CJI said the collegium has prepared a broad platform where it has assessed the top 50 judges of the country for consideration as apex court judges.
"One of the criticisms expressed about the collegium is that we have no factual data to evaluate the candidates being considered for appointment as judges of the top court and high courts. Let me share some of the steps taken. It is a work in progress but still we are improving. I have a Centre for Research and Planning. It is headed by an officer from the Haryana judicial services.
"We have prepared a broad platform where we have assessed the top 50 judges of the country who would be considered for appointment to the Supreme Court of India. We have data on judgments and the quality of judgments. The idea is to make the process of appointment in the Supreme Court more transparent," the CJI said.
Our aim is to lay down objective parameters for the selection of judges, he said.
Praising Jethmalani, the quick-witted lawyer who also rose to become the country's law minister, the CJI said he donned many robes and was India's top criminal lawyer as well as an acclaimed parliamentarian.
Jethmalani's legacy endures not only because of his unparalleled mastery over law but also due to his relentless pursuit for justice through legal and constitutional means, he said.
Chandrachud, who was the chief guest at the event organised in New Delhi at the NDMC Convention Centre to mark the birth centenary year of Jethmalani, who passed away in 2019, was to speak on topic 'Has the basic structure doctrine served the nation well'. He, however, hardly touched upon the issue.
"Much as I admire Mr Jethmalani, one thing I would not like to share is his ability to court controversy. So, I thought if I have to do something about this doctrine, I should do it through my judgments and not off the court pronouncements," Chandrachud said.
The effervescent lawyer-politician, who died an agile man at age 95, had controversially defended the accused in the assassination case of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He also defended the accused in the Jessica Lal murder case, the 1992 securities scam perpetrated by Harshad Mehta, the hawala case that also involved BJP stalwart L K Advani and others. The list goes on.
The CJI said his goal has been to institutionalise courts and move away from an ad hoc model of operation.
"Too often individuals come and lay down ideas only to be forgotten when they pass on the baton to the next person. Institutionalising courts enhances transparency and accountability," he said.
Chandrachud also talked about steps he has taken to improve the functioning of courts with the help of technology.
"The Centre for Research and Planning is now in the process of creating a system for managing and reducing case pendency through a project called SC-JUDICARE -- which stands for Judicial Disposal through Case Management and Resource Efficiency. The project aims to increase efficiency through improved case classification, grouping, and tagging.
"Phase I of the project is underway where we are collecting data on pending dockets to frame guidelines. We have also prepared a roadmap for auditing criminal matters. Our aim is to integrate granular data with an Integrated Case Management Information System(ICMIS), identify infructuous matters and devise strategic priorities at an institutional level," Chandrachud said.
The CJI also told the audience that the Supreme Court has now onboarded the National Judicial Data Grid which will provide real-time tracking of disposal and pendency at a click of a button.
"This information will help the Court identify the areas of concern to decrease pendency. Institutionalisation requires policy solutions. Due to the lack of data, it has been painfully difficult to devise methods to reduce pendency.
"Now as per NJDG data, there are 62946 pending civil cases and 17555 pending criminal cases. We have had a disposal rate of 95.34 per cent this year. This data will help me prioritise certain categories of matters (such as the oldest pending cases) for their able disposal and would allow us to introspect our performance in terms of disposal throughout the year," he said.
Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, Attorney General for India R Venkataramani, former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, senior advocates Fali S Nariman, Shyam Divan, and members of the Jethmalani family were present at the event.