Government puts appointments of Supreme Court, High Court judges on hold
BENGALURU: The government has put on hold the implementation of a new law on appointing judges to the country’s top courts,Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda said, portending a fresh tug-of-war with the judiciary on a vexed subject.
There will not be any appointment of judges to the Supreme Court or high courts until two public interest litigations filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, are disposed of, Gowda said, although many legal experts contend the government does not have a say in choosing judges until the new panel is established.
Gowda’s comments come days after Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said in an interview that the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts under the two-decade-old collegium system would continue till the government put in place the new commission to replace it.
Gowda, a former Karnataka CM, said the government had also put on hold framing rules or nominating eminent personalities to the new commission, to be chaired by CJI. The Modi government had brought in the NJAC Bill to end the collegium system to hasten appointment of judges.
“The ball is in CJI’s court as he is the chief of NJAC and his cooperation is very much needed for framing of rules and appointing two eminent personalities,” Gowda said over the phone from Delhi. “There should not be any confrontation… If (CJI) says go ahead, we can do it, otherwise it will be a problem.”
The SC Advocates-on-Record Association in its petition, settled by jurist and senior advocate Fali S Nariman, contended that the new law was beyond the legislative competence of Parliament and in violation of Articles 124(2) and 217(1) of the Constitution and as such was invalid and void.
The petitions will most likely be heard by a five-judge bench initially and be referred to an 11-judge bench, which could take months. Meanwhile, a collegium meeting was held in the SC on Tuesday, perhaps indicating the existing system may continue for now, although no consensus emerged on fresh appointments.
Anil B Divan, senior Supreme Court advocate, said judges to the top courts can still be appointed under the collegium system until the new commission is established.
“Central government cannot put the collegium on hold. They have to appoint two eminent persons for the committee and they have not appointed, so until this is done legislation is not completed,” Divan said. In addition to CJI, the National Judicial Appointments Commission will include as members two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, the Union law minister and two eminent personalities appointed by a panel comprising the prime minister, CJI and leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Supreme Court Bar Association PresidentDushyant Dave said the government need not wait to establish NJAC because of the petitions. “The government should, in fact, accelerate the process and set up the body that is necessary for the appointments… even if they start now it will take them six months to one year to set it up.”