In a parting shot, outgoing Chief Justice of India R M Lodha on Friday strongly defended the collegium system of appointment of judges, saying any other mode of appointment may impact on the independence of judiciary.
He said judges are best equipped to judge the suitability of candidates before appointment.
“I feel and it is my view that if appointment to higher or superior judiciary is made through other institution or body where persons other than judges are involved, it may impact the independence of judiciary. That is my view,” Justice Lodha said while interacting with reporters a day before he demits the office as CJI.
“My view on the issue is Judges are best equipped to adjudge the suitability of a person or candidate as the judges of the superior court because as judges we know all about their court craft, behaviour, skill, legal knowledge and other aspects. So there cannot be a better equipped person than a judge who watches them,” he said.
Justice Lodha strongly recommended that there should be two years “cooling off” period before a retired CJI and judges of higher judiciary take up any constitutional post or government assignment.
“This is again a very personal view. I hold the view that the CJI, judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of High Courts and judges of High Courts should not accept any constitutional position or assignment with government. There should be a cooling off period of two years,” he said.
However, he clarified that because of requirement of appointments in some tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies, statutes require the appointment of judges and that has to continue unless the Acts or statutes are amended or some other method is to be found.
Justice Lodha brushed aside the suggestion that he is in the fray to become country’s first Lokpal.
“It is absolutely wrong” was his terse reply to a question. He said first priority for him was “to enjoy freedom” from the work which he devoted for over 21 years. He made it clear that he will not take any constitutional post or government assignment and “spend time on himself”.
When asked whether he has the same opinion that CBI is a “caged parrot”, Justice Lodha avoided direct answer and said “a judge is not a caged parrot but looks for freedom and I am getting freedom”.
Responding to a question on whether he faced any political pressure during his tenure at the apex court, Justice Lodha said, “You call it a divine blessing during 21 years and nine months of my career never ever any sort of such thing directly or indirectly or in whatever form happened. I was never approached or recall anything which interfered in my judicial work”.
Further, he said criticism about judiciary encroaching upon the domain of executive has to be taken in the right spirit as “for a strong democracy it is very good that you have a strong executive and some friction is a good sign of democracy”.
He said that it is good if “we have strong legislature, executive and judiciary” and different organs should not encroach into the domains of others. He said that there is zero tolerance on allegation of sexual harassment within judiciary and there is a mechanism in place to deal with such cases.
He, however, accepted that the mechanism to deal with allegation against judges is not visible to be seen but it is working and “even one is not accepted”. However, the CJI expressed his sadness that lawyers bodies and many others could not understand properly his suggestion for making the courts functional throughout 365 days.
He said modalities could have been worked out by seeing examples in other sectors like medical etc.