In yet another reference to the government’s move to replace the age-old collegium system of selecting higher judicial officers with a national judicial selection committee, Chief Justice of India (CJI) HL Dattu, on the 69th anniversary of the country’s Independence, called for preservation of judicial sovereignty.
The CJI was addressing the legal fraternity at a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association.
The Supreme Court (SC) and Centre have been going head-to-head on the issue of judicial appointments since September last year when the government began to push for the National Judicial Appointments Bill to replace the collegium system that has historically been used to select judges.
The hearing on the issue concluded mid-July and the court’s verdict is awaited.
Members of the judiciary have been speaking out against the erosion of judicial independence since last year. Former CJI RM Lodha had, in September 2014, said “the independence of the judiciary is non-negotiable”.
Dattu, 65, who is set to retire as CJI in December this year, had previously spoken up for cooperation between the executive and the judiciary.
“Judiciary and Parliament are like siblings, both the children of democracy. We are obligated, on one hand, to support one another, and on the other hand, correct the other if they sway from the path laid down by our sacred Constitution,” he had said.
The hearings to decide the matter have since been fraught with tension between the government and judiciary, with the CJI telling the government he would not take part in the NJAC while the court’s constitution bench was hearing the challenge to the validity of the NJAC Act and the supporting constitutional amendment act.
In May, the NDA government had challenged the SC by saying that the Constitution never gave primacy to the CJI or judiciary in the matter of appointing new judges.