Can an additional judge of a High Court, considered unfit to become permanent, be given extension to continue on a temporary basis?
The Supreme Court on Wednesday made this query during the hearing of former Law Minster Shanti Bhushan’s petition challenging the appointment of Justice Ashok Kumar as a permanent judge of the Chennai High Court. Senior advocate Bhushan has claimed the present Chief Justice of India did not consult the two senior most judges of the Supreme Court before confirming Justice Kumar.
Even as the court posed questions over Justice Kumar’s appointment, the Government justified it. In his written submissions, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium said that the Government was of the view that once a candidate is found suitable for the appointment of an additional judge, elaborate consultations were not required for his confirmation.
Referring to Justice Kumar’s extension as a temporary judge in August 2005 by the then Chief Justice of India, RC Lahoti, the bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat said: “If somebody is unfit to be confirmed as a permanent judge, how can he be given extension? How can the person become fit for extension if he is unfit to become permanent?”
Appearing for Bhushan, senior advocate Anil Dewan concurred with Justice Pasayat’s deliberation and said: “Justice Kumar was not made permanent in August 2005 when Chief Justice Lahoti headed the collegium. However, the six officers who were junior to him were made permanent. He was simply granted extension to continue as a temporary judge.”
Dewan emphasised the need for a judicial review in Justice Kumar’s case. “The Supreme Court’s status is admired for it strikes down its own rules, if they are found to be arbitrary or illegal.” He said even before confirming a temporary judge, the Chief Justice of India is bound to consult the two senior most judges of the Supreme Court. “The consultation is not just restricted to the appointment of additional judges,” he added.