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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

SC must take call on norms to ensure transparency in judge appointments: Law ministry

The law ministry’s stand may further widen the rift between executive and judiciary.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2017 09:31 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
This is likely to be the government’s position in its response to a notice issued by the Supreme Court last week.
This is likely to be the government’s position in its response to a notice issued by the Supreme Court last week.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

The onus of moving ahead on finalising the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), a set of guidelines for appointing judges, is on the judiciary and not the government, the law ministry has said.

Hours after the Supreme Court disposed of a petition on the delay over finalising the MoP on Wednesday, minister of state for law and corporate affairs PP Chaudhary told HT, “The government is acting as per the judicial order of December 2015. The Supreme Court is also expected to respect it.”

The revised MoP has been stuck due to differences between the two sides since January 2016.

The SC collegium – a body of India’s five top judges headed by the Chief Justice – objected to certain clauses in the draft sent by the government. The document has changed hands between the two sides a few times since then, but remains a draft due to lack of consensus.

The ministry’s assertion of its stance could further widen the rift between the executive and the judiciary, which have failed to reach a consensus on the issue. An SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had on Wednesday recalled an October 27 order of a lower bench asking the government to explain the delay in notifying the guidelines. Officials say the stand-off between the two sides will not be easily resolved till the collegium agrees to the government’s proposals.

On December 16, 2015, a fivejudge constitution bench headed by Justice JS Khehar had delivered a detailed ruling asking the government to prepare a fresh MoP in consultation with then Chief Justice TS Thakur to ensure transparency in judicial appointments to 24 high courts and the Supreme Court. “The observations are equally applicable to the government and the judiciary,” Chaudhary said.

The same bench had earlier, in October 2015, quashed the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act that came into force earlier that year, reinstating the over two-decade-old system of the collegium appointing judges.

The ministry had already stated its position in a letter to the top court this July, a top government official involved in the process said. “A letter was sent to the secretary general (of the apex court) nearly seven weeks before Justice (JS) Khehar retired as the CJI. The government made it clear that the new MoP must follow the guidelines laid down in the December 2015 judgment to reform the process of appointing judges,” the official said. “It is for the Supreme Court to respond.”

The Centre asserts that the December 2015 judgement has empowered it to reform the appointment process, and bring in transparency.

Last month, the SC collegium resolved that it would start posting reasons for recommending or rejecting names for judicial appointments.

“The real process of reform should start with high court collegiums that recommend names for appointment to the Supreme Court collegium. The apex court has only 31 judges, while the high courts have 1,079. It is eventually the high court judges who get elevated to the Supreme Court,” the official said, when asked to explain the reasons behind the Centre’s push for revamping the MoP.

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 23:41 IST

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