The Supreme Court’s verdict striking down the constitutional amendment and law that sought to replace the two-decade-old collegium system under which judges appointed judges to the higher judiciary evoked a mixed response from legal eagles who appeared divided on what lies ahead.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who defended the 99th Constitutional Amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) before the top court, said the fact that the bench has commented on the merits of the collegium system indicated the judges have admitted there was something wrong with it.
“But it is not a case for review and Parliament would take a further call on it.”
Former law minister and senior advocate Kapil Sibal blamed the NDA government for attempting to convert the judiciary into what he termed a captive judiciary.
“It was an attempt to have inroads into the judiciary. Just like the CBI, which from a caged parrot has become a captive parrot, the government wanted the judiciary to become captive judiciary,” he said.
Senior counsel Anil Diwan, who was one of the lead counsel in the court to argue against the NJAC, said the judgment upholds independence of the judiciary.
He welcomed the court’s decision to continue hearing the matter of making the collegium system more transparent. “As petitioners we argued that the collegium system had shortcomings. But, NJAC was even worse,” Diwan said.
But his colleagues at the bar, senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Harish Salve, said they were deeply disappointed with the verdict. “I am not surprised. Having enjoyed this self-procreation power for decades, I had predicted, it would have been unlikely for the judiciary to lose it. Having tried the two systems of appointment (first by the executive and then judiciary) I believe the new NJAC should have been given a fair chance,” Singhvi said.
According to Salve, the judges cannot ask for suggestions. “Nowhere in the world judges appoint judges. It is not their job and, therefore, they cannot do what they want to now,” he said.
The Supreme Court Bar Association president, Dushyant Dave, who strongly supported the NJAC during hearings, had a different take. He said if the bench was making an effort to improve the collegium system it’s worth a watch. “The entire judiciary will look forward to how it proceeds.”
Senior counsel CA Sundaram echoed similar views. “The collegium system definitely requires tweaking. The government should find out the faults noted in the judgment and then take steps to accordingly bring a law within the constitutional framework.”