The Supreme Court collegium that appoints judges in higher judiciary will seek the opinion of a senior judge on probable candidates, the HT has learnt, two months after he refused to attend the body’s meetings seeking transparency in its functioning.
Sources said the move was aimed at breaking the deadlock after justice Chelameswar wrote a letter to Chief Justice of India, TS Thakur, demanding that the collegium meetings are recorded for bringing transparency to the system of judges’ appointment.
The high-powered panel comprising the top five SC judges recommends transfer of high court judges and approves names of chief justices and judges from states for appointment in the top court.
In a normal collegium meeting, the members sit together and decide on appointing the judges to the SC.
But in the ‘circulation method’, the files will be vetted first by the four members and then sent to justice Chelameswar who will give his views in writing.
The new procedure is expected to give justice Chelameswar a chance to record his dissent, which could block a particular recommendation cleared by the other four, the sources said.
The issue of judges appointment has become a point of friction between the government and the judiciary since the SC struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act last year.
Justice Chelameswar had given a dissenting verdict in the NJAC case. He has insisted on every member of the collegium put his or her views in writing and twice declined the CJI’s request to participate in its meetings.
The top court is in desperate need for judges. Last month, two judges retired bringing the strength to 26 against 31 sanctioned posts.
This month, two more will demit office while justice Thakur will retire in January.
The stalemate had threatened to disrupt the court proceedings in the SC that is already bogged down with 70,000 cases.
At present his opinion is required for new appointments to the SC and transfer of HC judges. However, after the retirement of justice Thakur on January 4 he will become part of the panel that decides on the elevation of lawyers as HC judges.
“By then, the composition of the collegium will change. Whether the new members will accept his stance is a big question?” said an SC official.
There could be a fresh stalemate if a difference of opinion arises then. And that would impact the appointments to the 24 HCs that have total of 43% judicial vacancies. The approved strength of the HCs stands at 1,079, of which 464 posts are vacant.