The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled out wholesale changes in the collegium system but agreed to consider suggestions on transparency, criteria for selection of judges and setting up a secretariat for its efficient functioning.
The top court was hearing the government, bar associations and jurists to devise means to make judicial appointments transparent after it declared the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) unconstitutional.
Unanimously passed by Parliament last year, the NJAC act was to replace the collegium system under which top five Supreme Court judges select judges for the higher judiciary.
“There can’t be any wholesale change in the collegium system,” said a five-judge bench headed by Justice JS Khehar.
The bench, also comprising justices J Chelameswar, MB Lokur, Kurian Joseph and AK Goel, had on October 16 struck down the 99th Constitutional Amendment as unconstitutional. But three of them had criticised the opacity in the functioning of the collegium and invited suggestions to improve it.
On behalf of the government, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said the collegium must put in public domain the minimum eligibility criteria for a person to be appointed judge? and consult the bar before recommending names for appointment of judges. It should give reasons for selecting or rejecting someone’s candidature for judgeship, he said.
Rohatgi suggested that the proposed secretariat should advertise vacancies, invite applications and sift them before the collegium takes the final call.
Senior advocate Fali Nariman, who had argued against the NJAC, said the collegium system was not receptive at all. Citing Justice Dinakaran’s case, he said his personal request to the then CJI to meet lawyers from Madras High Court on the issue was turned down. “Not even a single collegium member heard them (advocates),” he complained.
At the end of a two-hour hearing, the bench asked the parties to file written submissions compiling suggestions on transparency, eligibility criteria, establishment of a secretariat and evolving a mechanism for redressal of complaints by the collegium. The matter will be heard again on Thursday.
The court also heard solicitor general Ranjit Kumar and several senior advocates, including KK Venugopal, Anil Divan, Rajeev Dhavan and Arvind Datar, who had argued against the collegium system during the hearing of petitions against the NJAC. They advocated the need for transparency in the appointment of judges by the collegium.