Former Chief Justice of India UU Lalit asserted that the collegium system was here to stay, however, one could initiate dialogues to improve upon it. The recently retired top judge was speaking with the press at an informal interaction at his residence in the national capital.
Taking questions from the media, Justice Lalit said Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who criticized the collegium system, was entitled to his personal opinions; clarified the controversial listing of the Maharashtra government's appeal against the high court acquittal of activist GN Saibaba on a non-working day, and the acquittal of three death row convicts in the Chawwla gangrape case.
The Supreme Court collegium comprises of the five senior-most judges who are responsible for the appointment of judges in the top court. The three senior-most judges are responsible for the appointment and transfer of high court judges. Three seniormost judges of the high court send recommendations to the Supreme Court collegium for the elevation of persons to the high courts.
BOOM recaps important points from the interaction.
Collegium system is here to stay
Justice Lalit said the collegium system was introduced through the Supreme Court's 1993 Second Judges case delivered by a Constitution Bench comprising five judges.
The three judges cases—First Judges Case (1981), Second Judges Case (1993) and Third Judges Case (1998)—are three Supreme Court judgments that have collectively evolved the process for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary and the principle of judicial independence.
Justice Lalit asserted that the collegium system was "the best" and it has proved to have worked effectively. He added that if the government wanted it could re-introduce the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), but "but so long as that is not brought in, we will have to follow the established mechanism."
In 2014, the Centre passed the 99th Constitution Amendment that replaced the collegium system with the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) an independent body responsible for the appointment of judges in the higher judiciary. The Supreme Court, however, struck it down soon after.
Collegium recommendations need to be approved in a timebound manner
Justice Lalit said there must be a system where the government must act on collegium recommendations in a time-bound manner. Recalling an incident, Justice Lalit said an advocate who was recommended by the high court and the supreme court collegiums, vetted by all stake holders, withdrew his consent to become a judge after the government sat on his recommendation for more than a year.
Supreme Court judge Sanjay Kisan Kaul on Friday recapped the same incident in court while hearing a matter on judges striking in Orissa. In a strongly worded-order, Justice Kaul observed the government was responsible for acting on names proposed by the collegium; Keeping names on hold isn't acceptable; it's becoming a ploy to compel persons to withdraw their names, as has happened.
The ex-CJI on Sunday, indirectly showed his support for Justice Kaul's opinions.
Nothing unusual about listing GN Saibaba appeal on a non-working day
Justice Lalit said there was nothing untoward about listing the Maharashtra government's appeal against the high court acquittal of activist GN Saibaba on a non-working day.
Recapping the sequence of events of October 14, Justice Lalit said he got the registry came to him with the request for an urgent hearing on Friday evening. That day also happened to be the farewell for Justice Hemant Gupta who retired on October 16. Justice Lalit said he asked around and only Justices MR Shah and Bela Trivedi were free and willing to hear the matter on a non-working day. All other judges he asked had prior commitments, he recalled.
As CJI, Justice Lalit said, his role as was to ensure that a bench was available for a hearing at its earliest. He had no role in the decisions taken by the bench, Justice Lalit said.
The Chief Justice of India as "master of the roster" is responsible for the constitution of benches.
Cant back death penalty if evidence is weak: CJI On Acquittal of Chhawla Gangrape convicts
Justice Lalit on Sunday backed his decision to acquit three convicts in the Chhawla gangrape case saying the evidence against them was circumstantial. "These three men got the death penalty on the basis of circumstantial evidence. However, the situation did not show such clarity. How can one back the death penalty if the evidence is weak, Justice Lalit said. In fact, the matter shouldn't have come to the Supreme Court at all, he added.
Supreme Court bench comprising ex-CJI UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat on Monday—the ex-CJI's last working day—set aside the conviction in the 2012 rape case where three convicts sentenced to death row and upheld by the Delhi High Court for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Delhi's Chhawla area.
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