Collegium system requires reconsideration, former Supreme Court judge Justice AK Sikri
The collegium system of appointing judges to high courts and the Supreme Court needs reconsideration since it has led to selection of undeserving candidates and rejection of deserving ones, opined former Supreme Court judge Justice AK Sikri.
“As far as Collegium system is concerned, it needs to be reconsidered. India is the only country where judges appoint judges,” he said.
Justice Sikri who served as Supreme Court judge for six years from April 2013 to March 2019 was speaking at a panel discussion that accompanied the launch of the book ‘The Cases that India forgot’ authored by Dr Chintan Chandrachud.
The collegium comprises five of the senior-most sitting judges of the Supreme Court who recommend names of persons to be appointed to the higher judiciary.
Justice Sikri, who was part of the Collegium from June 2018 until his retirement in March 2019, said that the Collegium most of the times goes by “impression” while appointing judges to high courts and the Supreme Court resulting in elevation of undeserving candidates and omission of deserving ones. This state of things, he added, has to be rectified.
“Let me be very blunt and frank. Most times, we (Collegium) go by “our impression” when appointing judges (to high courts and Supreme Court). It may not be a scientific study made about a particular candidate. Therefore, many times those who are taken may not be deserving, and many times those are deserving might be left out. That needs to be taken care of.”
He said that Collegium system maybe the best on paper but its working leaves a lot to be desired. He also pointed out that Justice DY Chandrachud in two of his judgments had “subtly” indicated that the Collegium system might not be working effectively and might need changes.
“Maybe on paper and going by Indian conditions, it might be the best. But in its working, justice Chandrachud has in a very subtle manner stated the fact that the Collegium system might not be working and it needs changes. He has said this in two judgments,” said justice Sikri.
The Collegium system of appointing judges to the high courts and the Supreme Court was evolved by the Supreme Court in 1993 through its judgment in the case of Supreme Court AoR Association vs Union of India popularly known as Second Judges case.
In this case, the court held that opinion of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) will have primacy over the opinion of the government with regard to appointment of judges. This effectively led to a system wherein senior-most judges sit in a Collegium of three or five to pick judges to high courts and the Supreme Court.
Parliament had tried to replace the collegium system in 2014 by amending the Constitution and bringing in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) to appoint judges to high courts and the Supreme Court. The NJAC was to comprise of the CJI, two judges of Supreme Court next in seniority to the CJI, Union Law Minister and two eminent jurists. However, the Supreme Court in 2015, struck down the NJAC as unconstitutional for violating the independence of judiciary.
Besides justice Sikri, sitting Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud, founding and managing partner of law firm AZB & Partners, Zia Mody, additional solicitor general Madhavi Divan and Dr. Chintan Chandrachud were part of the discussion. The panel was moderated by journalist Shekhar Gupta.