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Did Centre, collegium ever differ? Asks SC

May,1,2015: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to produce statistics of the number of times the Union Law Minister, in the past, accepted or rejected the previous collegium system’s recommendations of persons to be appointed judges.

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

This may be an effort to show the number of times the executive had interfered with, or even blocked, the primacy of the judiciary in appointment of judges to the highest courts.

Justice Kurian Joseph, one of the five judges on the Constitution Bench looking into the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) law’s validity, asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to show in numbers the occasions in which the Law Minister had a difference of opinion with the collegium on judicial appointments.

The query came even as Justice J.S. Khehar, who heads the Bench explained that the collegium, when it selects a name for appointment as judge, looks at only the candidate’s judicial capability. It is left to the executive to do a profile check on the candidate’s moral and professional integrity, Justice Khehar said.

The court’s posers to the Attorney General came in the light of arguments made by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani that the collegium system of appointments lacked transparency.

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to accept that the NJAC is a more evolved process of appointing judges than the collegium system. But the apex court said it would tread carefully.

“We have to be careful…Don’t you realise? This is an important crossroad in our history. If we don’t decide rightly, the country is going to curse us. This is the most difficult crossroad in our history,” Justice Khehar observed.

This exchange came after Mr. Rohatgi questioned the insistence on why judges alone should appoint judges. The AG said that, judging by the large number of vacancies, the collegium system has hardly worked.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted that what went on in the collegium system was a “structured bargaining” among judges to get their candidates in. Mr. Bhushan said the present NJAC would be a throwback to the collegium system. He alleged that even the appointment of the two eminent persons as NJAC members would become an exercise of mutual political appeasement between the Prime Minister and the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The hearing will continue on Friday.

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