Judicial appointments bill passed by RS too: what it means

The bill proposes to replace the collegium system of selection of judges to the supreme court and the high court by a six-member body

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Deevakar Anand | August 14, 2014



In what is seen as a big victory for the Narendra Modi government, the Rajya Sabha on Thursday (August 14) passed the national judicial appointments commission bill, 2014. The bill, along with a constitutional amendment bill, was passed in Lok Sabha on Wednesday. 

The bill proposes to replace the collegium system of selection of judges to the supreme court and the high courts by a six-member body consisting of the chief Justice of India, two senior-most judges of the SC, union law minister, and two other eminent persons picked by a panel comprising the prime minister, leader of the opposition and the chief Justice of India himself.

Like in the lower house, the judicial appointments commission bill was passed by voice vote in Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha had passed the constitution (121st amendment) bill, 2014 through a vote – 367 in favor and none against it.

The collegium system of selection of judges has recently come under scanner in the light of corruption charges against SC and HC judges. The recent case of former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium's elevation as a SC judge as proposed by the collegium was rejected by the government leading to an ugly face off.

The new system of selection of judges in the higher judiciary would entail greater transparency and accountability. The critics, however, say it would lead to more political intervention in the process and undermine the independence of judiciary.

What is the new system, the proposed national judicial appointments commission?
The bill proposes to replace the collegium system of selection of judges to the supreme court and the high court by a six-member body consisting of the chief justice of India, two senior-most judges of the SC, union law minister, and two other eminent persons picked by a panel comprising the prime minister, leader of the opposition and the chief Justice of India himself.

Five of the six members of the panel must agree on a name for final appointment.

What is the collegium system of selection of judges?
Post 1993, the selection of judges to the high court and the supreme court are done through the collegium system. Under the collegium system, the SC judges are selected by a panel comprising the chief justice of India and four senior judges of the same court. In case of the high court judges’ appointments are made after a collegium of the particular HC proposes the name which then is cleared by a three member SC collegium headed by CJI. One of the other two judges in the panel must have been associated with that particular HC in the past.
On October 6, 1993, the Collegium system was brought through a nine-judge bench decision of the SC to give primacy to CJI in such appointments.

How the judges were selected prior to 1993

The appointments were made by the law ministry in consultation with the judiciary.

Arguments in favor of the proposed judicial appointments commission
The collegium system of selection of judges has recently come under scanner in the light of corruption charges against SC and HC judges. The recent case of former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium's elevation as a SC judge as proposed by the collegium was rejected by the government leading to a face off.
The government and those in support of the new arrangement argue that the collegium had become too opaque. The new system will bring more transparency and accountability in appointments.

Argument against it
CJI RM Lodha has defended the collegium system. On Monday, during a hearing on a writ petition questioning the reported elevation of Karnataka HC judge K.L. Manjunath as chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana HC, he remarked that there were vicious efforts to tarnish judiciary’s image through the questioning of the collegium.
Others against the new appointment commission view it as a compromise on judiciary’s independence. They believe it would lead to political interferences in the process and that would be motivated.

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