Amidst a row over appointment of judges between the executive and judiciary, the law ministry has begun the process of putting candidates recommended for appointments as high court judges through detailed scrutiny.
The ministry wrote to the cabinet secretariat last month saying the process of “detailed scrutiny of proposals received for appointment of judges from high courts has been initiated”.
The move could trigger another tussle between the executive and judiciary, with the latter accusing the former of stepping into its domain.
The Supreme Court had in 2015 quashed the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act which sought to make the appointment of judges more transparent by involving members of judiciary, legislature and civil society in the appointments.
The SC had then asked the government to come up with a new memorandum of procedure (MOP), but this has been in a limbo since March 2016 over disagreements between the two after several exchanges.
The government’s current move comes after a section of the SC raised concerns over the quality of judges recently.
In July, the Centre wrote to the apex court asking it to review the current system of judges appointing judges, citing a judgment in which two judges had called for “the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges”.
As per the procedure being followed, the collegia of the 24 high courts send recommendations to the law ministry on candidates —— advocates or members of lower judiciary — for appointment as high court judges.
The ministry then attaches a report from the Intelligence Bureau on the record of the prospective candidate and forwards it to the Supreme Court collegium — a body of India’s top five judges headed by the Chief Justice of India — which takes a final call on the appointments.
The HC collegia also send performance record of the candidates. For members of the bar, it is the cases they have argued and for lower court judges, it is the judgements they have issued.
Now, the in-house legal team of the law ministry will subject these records to tougher scrutiny.
“In the case of advocates, their reported judgements, and in case of judicial officers, their case disposal time and number of adjournments are being evaluated by an in-house team having legal background,” the ministry informed the cabinet secretariat.
Though law ministry officials maintain that the government is not entering the judiciary’s domain, assessing judicial capability of candidates has been done exclusively by the HC collegiums in the past.
In the judgment in the contempt case on HC judge CS Karnan, justices Jasti Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi also stressed on the need for an “appropriate legal regime” other than impeachment to deal with errant judges.
As carried in ht on 12/9/2017