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Collegium needs to self-audit if system has worked, says law minister Prasad

The government and the Supreme Court have been locked in a battle over judicial appointments. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad talks about the collegium system for appointing judges in an interview with Hindustan Times.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2018 07:24 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Ravi Shankar Prasad,Collegium,Judiciary
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

India’s law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that now that the collegium system for appointing judges to the higher judiciary has been around for almost 25 years, maybe it is time for an audit – done by the collegium itself – on how it has worked.

It is not his job to do the audit, Prasad added in an interview. “We respect the independence of the judiciary.”

The government and the Supreme Court have been locked in a battle over judicial appointments. The National Democratic Alliance government sought to pass a law on judicial appointments to create the National Judicial Appointments Commission. But despite having bipartisan support, as Prasad points out, this was scrapped by the Supreme Court in late 2015.

The Supreme Court then asked the government to come up with a Memorandum of Proceeding or MoP, on judicial appointments, a move seen as widely acknowledging the need to improve the process by which judges to the higher judiciary are appointed. The MoP is stuck with the Supreme Court since mid-2017. Prasad says his ministry has suggested the need for a screening mechanism for judicial appointments instead of an opaque process. His ministry would not just accept recommendations from the collegiums with no reasoning or selection criteria mentioned, he seemed to suggest: “This ministry is not a post office.”

Read:SC collegium makes judicial appointments transparent, begins posting online

Despite having serious “reservations” on the NJAC judgment, the government is hoping to work with the court to create a transparent MoP, Prasad said. Meanwhile, his ministry hasn’t let this get in the way of work, and once the NJAC Act was repealed, it has appointed more judges to the senior judiciary per year, on average, than most governments that came before it.

“There is meaningful and purposive engagement” between his ministry and the Chief Justice and the senior judiciary, Prasad said in responsive to a question, but added that it has stayed out of “the internal situation” in the Supreme Court.

His reference is to a spat between the Chief Justice and the next four most senior judges that has vitiated the atmosphere in the court, potentially stalled key judicial appointments, and resulted in a cold war of sorts.

First Published: Feb 24, 2018 07:22 IST