Senior SC judges upset with Centre over altering of Justice KM Joseph’s seniority
Several senior justices of the Supreme Court are upset with the Union government for altering the seniority granted to Justice KM Joseph while clearing his appointment as a top court judge last week, according to people familiar with the matter.
The judges, who met informally to discuss the appointments, have decided to take the matter up with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on Monday to urge him to try and remedy what they consider to be interference by the government in judicial appointments, added the people cited above.
“Judges of the top court met and discussed Justice Joseph’s matter and the government’s decision to alter his seniority by placing him below Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran. Justice Joseph’s name was sent first and his name should have been first in the appointment notification. We have decided to take up the matter with the CJI,” a Supreme Court judge said on the condition of anonymity.
The appointments of Justices Banerjee, Saran and Joseph to the apex court was cleared by the government on August 3. But the government notification placed Justice Joseph below Justices Banerjee and Saran, thereby making them senior to him in the court’s internal hierarchy.
Justice Joseph’s appointment was first cleared by the Supreme Court collegium this January. While sending his name to the government, it had said: “While recommending the name of Mr Justice KM Joseph, the Collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts, apart from their merit and integrity.”
The government did not respond to Justice Joseph’s name for over four months and sent back his file for reconsideration in April on the grounds that Justice Joseph was not senior enough and that having two judges from the Kerala high court would be against the principles of regional representation.
In July, Justice Joseph’s name was reiterated by the collegium, eventually leading to the government clearing his appointment.
A second judge of the top court confirmed the development, saying that he and his colleagues were not happy with how the seniority had been altered by the government notification. “The collegium reiterated Justice Joseph’s name in July, along with the names of Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran. While it was absolutely clear that the name which went first was senior to the names sent later, the government notification put the name of Justice Joseph below other judges,” said the judge, who asked not to be named.
The judge added that the names of Justice Joseph and the other two judges were sent in separate files to make doubly sure that the seniority of the judges was not affected.
A senior law ministry official declined to comment on the matter.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said the issue was one of precedent.
“While it may seemingly be a trivial matter as Justice Joseph does not stand to become the future Chief Justice of India. However, the collegium will be correct in insisting that there be no cloud on his seniority. Seniority may not matter in Justice Joseph’s case but a wrong precedent must not be set for future appointments. The government should not have the ability to possibly deny anyone seniority and its consequences, including the chief justiceship,” he said.