The landmark judicial appointments commission bill was passed unanimously by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday after the government climbed down on a key provision that indirectly gave power to the law minister to veto any selection of judges.
After the bill becomes law, the government will have a say in the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges after 21 years. Once the commission is formed, 266 vacancies for judges in 24 high courts are likely to be filled expeditiously. The Supreme Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 31, also has one vacancy. The appointment of new judges is also expected to speed up the backlog of legal cases in courts across the country.
The bill seeking to replace the two-decade-old collegium system with an independent six-member commission for senior judicial appointments is expected to be passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. The commission can be set up only after half the state assemblies ratify the bill passed by Parliament.
The original bill said that if the President does not approve and returns any name to the commission for reconsideration, the panel can recommend the name again only if there is unanimity among its members.
In other words, if any one member disagrees, the particular name cannot be recommended again to the President. Opposition members felt that this provision would have given the law minister veto powers as he is expected to follow the President’s line.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad Wednesday moved an official amendment that said a recommendation can be returned to the President if at least five members agreed on the name.
l was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha and the related 99th Constitution amendment bill was passed by 367-0 votes in its favour.
The second bill, quickly taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday itself, will pave the way for the new system of judicial appointments.
Prasad underlined that “ability” and “merit” will be considered along with seniority for elevation in the judiciary.
The law minister also suggested that the states can maintain a data bank of good lawyers so that their names can be recommended for future appointment as judges.
“We are for maintaining the sanctity of the judiciary. Let the message go that this House is one for maintaining the dignity of the judiciary,” he added.
Prasad said that besides governors, chief ministers will also be consulted for high court appointments.