Law minister Kiren Rijiju’s comments on judges, collegium spark controversy
New Delhi: Union law minister Kiren Rijiju has sparked a controversy by saying that judges spend half their times spent in deciding who to appoint as judges instead of delivering justice, as he termed the collegium system “opaque”.
New Delhi: Union law minister Kiren Rijiju has sparked a controversy by saying that judges spend half their times spent in deciding who to appoint as judges instead of delivering justice, as he termed the collegium system “opaque” and described the Indian selection system as the only one where judges appoint judges -- comments that some former judges described as “unjustified”.
The minister, in his remarks at an event held in Ahmedabad called Sabarmati Samvad, organised by weekly magazine Panchajanya (the magazine published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), also said that there are a bunch of 40-50 lawyers who have created a “monopoly” in the Supreme Court just because they speak good English.
“The primary task of a judge is to deliver justice to the people. What I see as a law minister (is that) half the time of the judges is spent on deciding who would become the next judge rather than giving justice,” Rijiju said.
“The mechanism to appoint judges is opaque,” said the minister, adding the common man can see twists and turns in the politics but the politics within the judiciary over the appointment of judges is not visible. The collegium in the top court comprises its first five judges, including the Chief Justice of India.
“If we follow the spirit of the Constitution, appointing judges is the task of the government. Secondly, there is no practice anywhere in the world except in India that judges appoint judges themselves... People can see the politics among the leaders but they do not know the politics going on inside the judiciary while appointing judges as the deliberations are intense,” said Rijiju.
Former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur on Tuesday took a grim view of Rijiju’s statements regarding judicial appointments.
“As far as the issue of judges spending more time in deciding judicial appointments is concerned, I would say people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others,” said justice Lokur.
He also expressed surprise at the law minister’s suggestion on in-house mechanism to regulate oral observations by judges.
“I don’t know what point is he (Rijiju) making. It is not possible to have an in-house mechanism to regulate the observations because they are a part of the discussion while hearing the case,” said the former SC judge.
Rijiju, in his comments, had shared his thoughts about the oral observations made by the judges, opining an in-house mechanism should be contemplated by the judiciary for a self-regulation against unwarranted comments.
“Many judges make observation which is not a part of the order. By making such observations, they demonstrate their thinking, and in the society, it is also criticised...We do not want to say that the judges should behave in a particular manner [but] just like the media have their ethics and self-regulatory practices, judiciary should also think on the same lines, especially in today’s time of social media,” he added.
The minister further said that Indian judiciary is still carrying the colonial baggage in the form of obsolete laws which he said the Narendra Modi government is slowly getting rid of, and in the extensive use of the English language.
“In the Supreme Court, people who speak English well dominate. In the Supreme Court, there are 40-50 such lawyers who have created a monopoly...they even threaten the judges just because they use heavy English words,” said Rijiju, adding citizens should get the right to use Indian languages before courts.
“In the coming days, there should be an option even in the Supreme Court to speak in Indian languages...our thinking should be in that direction,” said the minister.
When contacted, retired Delhi high court judge RS Sodhi said that to simply criticise the collegium system may not be enough when no better alternative is being presented.
“The collegium system, opaque as it maybe, but do we have an alternative. If you have a viable alternative which can serve better, I can understand. Otherwise, to criticize the present system is not justified,” said justice Sodhi. Rijiju’s idea of a regulation on oral observations also failed to cut ice with the former judge. “Your (politicians’) remarks, be it inside or outside the Parliament, are often obnoxious, but we (judges) are not asking you to make an in-house mechanism. These observations by judges are made while having debates and discussions to extract the best out of lawyers,” he said.