The Supreme Court in a historic move on Thursday initiated a public debate on the collegium system of appointing judges, seeking to improve the decades-old mechanism that was revived after a government-backed alternative was struck down last month.
A constitution bench headed by Justice JS Kehar asked attorney general Mukul Rohatgi to issue a public notice in the media seeking suggestions from lawyers, bar members, the public, the intelligentsia and other stakeholders on how to make the collegium system more transparent.
The suggestions to be submitted to the court should be under four categories -- transparency, need for eligibility criteria to appoint judges, establishment of a secretariat for the collegium and evolving a mechanism of redressing complaints. If a submission does not qualify for any of the groups, it can be listed as “miscellaneous”.
The move came a day after the SC said it would consider suggestions but ruled out wholesale changes to the existing mechanism of judges appointing judges that the top court upheld on October 16 when it quashed as unconstitutional the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act passed by Parliament.
Rohatgi also volunteered to webhost the compilations submitted to the bench by additional solicitor general Pinky Anand and senior advocate Arvind Dattar, prepared on the basis of suggestions given by individuals, including academicians, on the website of the law ministry’s department of justice.
“Suggestions received by 1700 hours on November 13 shall be entertained. No further suggestions will be entertained,” the bench noted.
It, however, gave an extra day to the Bar Council of India to submit its inputs. The apex disciplinary body of lawyers will hand over its submissions after holding discussions with state bar councils, the court said, fixing November 18 and 19 to conclude the hearing.
The court also formed a panel comprising Rohatgi, senior advocate Fali S Nariman and BCI chairman Manan Mishra to short-list the counsel who will address the court after going through the recommendations received.
The five-judge bench also clarified there was no bar on the collegium to go ahead with its work to appoint judges in various high courts that have over 400 vacancies.
“We want to indicate that we don’t want to delay. We don’t want to say anything to the collegium,” the bench said.
“We have not said anything to the collegium and we will not be saying anything. Whatever they want, they can do. If they do not want to proceed, let them not. It is their business.”