Displaying earnest, government will seek the views of jurists and former judges on the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission bill it plans to bring in Parliament to replace the present collegium system where judges appoint judges. Sources said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad will listen to top jurists and former judges on Monday to elicit their views on the bill.
The government has already written to leaders of major political parties seeking their support for the bill. The leaders have also been asked to give their views on the issue. The move comes in the wake of claims that the previous UPA regime had nudged the Supreme Court collegium to recommend an extension for a Madras High Court judge who was under corruption cloud. The decision to fast track the bill also comes in the backdrop of a controversy generated by the Centre’s decision to return the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium for appointment of senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium as an apex court judge. The Law Minister had on July 21 said the government is seeking the views of various political parties and eminent jurists for setting up a Judicial Appointments Commission which would scrap the present system of judges appointing judges.
The sources said the NDA government is not averse to the previous UPA government’s plan to put the composition and functions of the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in Constitution.
By giving the composition and functions of the proposed commission Constitutional status, UPA had sought to ally fears of the judiciary that the composition and functions can be tweaked by any future government.
BJP, then in Opposition, had also raised the issue of constitutional status for the proposed body. While a constitutional amendment bill requires two-third majority for passage in a House, a normal legislation needs just a simple majority. But the NDA government is learnt to be planning to rejig the composition of the proposed panel, the sources said. They said the NDA government has found “certain infirmities” in the UPA version.
The UPA bill had proposed that the Commission be headed by the Chief Justice of India with two senior judges of the Supreme Court, two eminent persons and the Law Minister as its members.
The Secretary (Justice) in the Law Ministry was to be the convener. UPA had proposed that the two eminent persons on the Commission be selected by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, the CJI and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. A Constitutional Amendment Bill to set up the proposed commission has lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha and an accompanying bill is pending in Rajya Sabha.
An earlier effort by the NDA-I government in 2003 to replace the collegium system met with no success. The then NDA government had introduced a Constitution amendment bill but Lok Sabha was dissolved when the bill was before a Standing Committee. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was the Law Minister then. After any Constitutional amendment bill gets Parliamentary nod, it is sent to all the states and 50 per cent of the state legislatures have to ratify it. The process could take up to eight months. After ratification, the government sends it to the President for his approval. The practice of judges appointing judges started after 1993, replacing the system of government picking judges for higher judiciary comprising the Supreme Court and high courts. The move to set aside the 1993 Supreme Court judgement, which led to the collegium system, requires a Constitutional amendment.