Supreme Court collegium stresses on free speech, stands by elevations
The Supreme Court collegium on Thursday stressed on the importance of free speech, saying that “expression of views by a candidate does not disentitle him to hold a constitutional office”.
New Delhi Standing by its decision to appoint two lawyers as judges in the high courts of Bombay and Madras respectively, the Supreme Court collegium on Thursday stressed on the importance of free speech, saying that “expression of views by a candidate does not disentitle him to hold a constitutional office”.
The collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, moved away from convention by putting out in the public domain its resolutions with detailed reasons, disclosing why the government objected to certain names and the collegium’s response. Earlier, only the decisions were released on the court website.
Notably, the collegium’s departure from the conventional practice comes at a time when the judiciary and the executive are at loggerheads over the judges’ selection mechanism and the division of powers between the two.
The lawyers in question were Somasekhar Sundaresan, who has been picked for elevation to the Bombay high court, and R John Sathyan, who has been selected for the Madras high court.
The collegium also sent back names of advocates Amitesh Banerjee and Sakya Sen for their appointment as judges to the Calcutta high court.
The collegium said that it was not open to the government to send back these names after the collegium’s reiteration in 2021.
The resolution regarding reiteration of the name of Sundaresan revealed that the government wanted the collegium to reconsider his candidature because he aired his views in social media on several matters pending before the courts. The government, in its communication dated November 25, returned Sundaresan’s name calling him a “highly biased opinionated person” who is “selectively critical on the social media on the important policies, initiatives and directions of the government”
Rejecting the objection, the collegium said that the views on social media attributed to Sundaresan do not furnish any foundation to infer that he is biased or has any political leaning, especially when these issues are in the public domain and have been extensively deliberated upon in the print and electronic media.
“All citizens have the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Expression of views by a candidate does not disentitle him to hold a constitutional office so long as the person proposed for judgeship is a person of competence, merit and integrity,” emphasised the collegium.
Sundaresan has specialised in commercial law, and the Bombay high court deals with a large volume of cases of commercial and securities laws. The resolution called him a person who possesses high integrity, honesty, skill, high order of emotional stability, firmness, serenity, legal soundness, ability and endurance, and deserves to be appointed as judge of the Bombay high court.
In the second case, the collegium pushed for the appointment of Sathyan as a judge of the Madras high court, and the resolution disclosed that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had flagged his candidature over Sathyan sharing two posts on social media. One of these posts was an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the second one pertained to a girl student committing suicide in 2017 after she was unable to clear NEET.
The government, citing IB’s objections, returned Sathyan’s name for reconsideration. The collegium, however, resolved to send back his name, pointing out that not only all the consultee judges had a favourable opinion about suitability of the lawyer, IB too reported that he enjoys a good personal and professional image and that nothing adverse has come to notice against his integrity.
“Shri Sathyan belongs to the Christian community. The IB report notes that he does not have any overt political leanings. In this backdrop, the adverse comments of the IB extracted above in respect of posts made by him will not impinge on the suitability, character or integrity of Shri Sathyan,” underscored the collegium, adding he is fit and suitable for being appointed as a judge of the Madras high court.
Under the memorandum of procedure (MoP) that guides the judicial appointments, the government can only object once if it does not agree with the collegium’s recommendations, but is bound by the decision after the names are reiterated.