The process of judicial appointments has to be completely transparent to foster greater confidence of citizens in the work of the judiciary, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said on Saturday, pointing out that the collegium system follows a set of well-defined parameters to select judges.
“No system is perfect, but this is the best we have developed. It (collegium) was devised for the simple reason that independence of judiciary is a cardinal value and the judiciary needs to be insulated from outside influences for it to be truly independent,” the CJI said, highlighting that merit is the prime consideration, followed by seniority and the need to have broad representation from all regions and high courts, while considering inclusion of gender, marginalised communities and minorities.
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“First, we look at merit to assess the professional competence of a judge,” the CJI said, referring to the practice followed where the collegium reads the judgments rendered by the candidate judge to be elevated to the Supreme Court. Also, the top court judges deal with judgments of high courts on a daily basis, which helps form an opinion about merit of a particular judge.
“The second criterion is seniority because rendering justice is a service,” the CJI said. “There is also a broader sense of inclusion that we follow with regard to gender, marginalised communities – persons of SC/ST who need to have an equal opportunity to aspire for higher judicial office, and to bring more minorities into the judiciary, but all this without compromising on merit,” the CJI explained.
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On the final criterion, the CJI said: “We try and ensure to give adequate representation to each and every high court, different states and regions in the country, to the extent possible, while making appointments to the Supreme Court.”
In the whole process, there are sufficient checks and balances as the appointment to high courts is first made by the high court collegium. “There is equal involvement of different stakeholders – state government, before it comes to the Supreme Court,” CJI Chandrachud said. At the stage of the Supreme Court, inputs from the Centre in form of Intelligence Bureau report is received, following which recommendations are sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and then to the President for appointment.
Taking heed of the criticism by law minister Kiren Rijiju about the collegium making public the inputs given by the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau on a judge, the CJI said the decision of the collegium to put out these inputs about senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal was done in January to counter criticism that the process lacks transparency.
“The reason we put it (information) on the website is the desire of the present collegium to meet the criticism that we lack transparency. It was a genuine belief that opening up our processes will foster greater confidence in citizens in the work we do,” he said.
Kirpal’s name was reiterated by the collegium despite the intelligence reports objecting to his openly gay sexual orientation and his partner being a Swiss national employed with the Swiss embassy. Rijiju had objected to the collegium making public the sensitive intelligence inputs on Kirpal.
Without joining issue with the law minister, saying that he is entitled to his perception, the CJI explained that the collegium disclosed something that was already out in the public domain. “Every aspect that was mentioned in the report of the IB was in the public domain. The candidate in question is open about his sexual orientation. When the IB flagged it, we were not opening up IB’s sources of information.”
“All we said was that the sexual orientation of a candidate has nothing to do with the ability or the constitutional entitlement of the candidate to assume the office of a judge,” CJI Chandrachud said.
On the long summer and winter breaks enjoyed by the Supreme Court justices, the CJI said that judges of the top court hold court for 200 days (about six and a half months) in a year, compared to the US Supreme Court that sits for 80 days, Australian Supreme Court for less than 100 days, the UK and Singapore Supreme Courts for 145 days.
“Without exception, every judge of the Supreme Court works for seven days a week,” he said. “What people don’t know is that most of the time in the vacation is spent on preparing judgments which you have kept in reserve because you’ve just had no time during the week when you are working seven days just trying to keep ahead of the curve to deal with your cases,” the CJI said.