New Delhi:Sans any accountability and transparency, the Supreme Court Collegium system has been functioning like a ‘cabal’, according to former Law Commission Chairman AP Shah. He told this agency that the system of appointment to higher judiciary has outlived its utility and it should be replaced by an independent appointment commission.
A votary of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), declared unconstitutional by the apex court earlier, the former Delhi High Court Chief Justice said the appointment of judges lies at the heart of an independent judiciary, and it is indispensable that the process is transparent.
The architect of several bold judgments including the historic verdict of decriminalizing homosexuality, Shah also is in favour of doing away with the ‘impractical’ impeachment process. He wants the introduction of an independent panel empowered to investigate and act on complaints against judges, including the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
“Time and again the Collegium system has proved to be opaque with its members working as if in a cabal. This process of appointment of judges has outlived its utility and it’s time for the Collegium system to go,” Justice (retd) Shah said.
The ‘Judges-selecting-Judges’ system evolved through judgements of the Supreme Court (SC). The SC Collegium is headed by the CJI with four other seniormost judges as its members who sends its resolution to the government for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts.
The recent elevation of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna to the Supreme Court, superseding 32 others, reignited the debate on the efficacy of the Collegium system with sitting and former judges expressing their reservation.
“The decision to supersede as many as 32 judges including several Chief Justices of High Courts is not just an issue of concern but yet again proves how faulty the system is. The problem is the Collegium is not accountable to any other authority,” Shah asserted.
While Justice Sanjay Kaul of the Supreme Court had written to CJI Ranjan Gogoi objecting to the sidelining of Justice Nandrajog, former Delhi High Court judge Kailash Gambhir had written to President Ram Nath Kovind against the elevation of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna stating that superseding of 32 judges was ‘appalling and outrageous’.
Referring to instances where eminent judges have strongly criticised the Collegium system, Shah pointed to lack of clarity on the criteria of the selection of said several appointments have in the past have reeked of ‘biases’.
“Sons and nephews of previous judges or senior lawyers tend to get the benefit,” he said, adding that setting up a full time judicial appointment commission independent from the government for the higher judiciary was indispensable.