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Centre tears into SC Collegium system

June,11,2015: Kid gloves came off on the third day of the Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the new National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) with the Centre blaming the Collegium system for appointment of judges who lacked both discipline and decorum.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi gave details of ‘bad appointments’ made in the last 20 years.
Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi gave details of ‘bad appointments’ made in the last 20 years.

On Wednesday, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi handed over to a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice J.S. Khehar a note in a sealed cover, containing names and details of judges considered “bad appointments” made on the recommendation of the Supreme Court Collegium in the last 20 years.

During the hearing, Mr. Rohatgi alluded to how one Supreme Court judge was chronically late for court at the cost of valuable judicial time. The A-G wondered aloud why the apex court did not take action against that judge.

In another case, a judge successfully held several Chief Justice posts in various High Courts and got elevated to the Supreme Court despite an abysmal track record of writing judgments.

“This causes a lot of heartburn. Some benchmark, data, guidelines have to be there. There were judges who have no sense of discipline,” he said.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted how the government was driven to a corner in some of these cases when it had to comply with the Collegium despite adverse intelligence reports against some of the recommended names.

“Sometimes, we were forced to choose somebody,” Mr. Rohatgi said.

Judges create ‘havoc’

Noting that many judges create “havoc” with spurts of indiscipline, he referred to a recent incident of a certain High Court judge who issued a threat of contempt of court action against his own Chief Justice.

“The Chief Justice should have either got him transferred or exempted him from judicial work. But neither was done,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

But the Bench intervened here, observing that there are some “errant people and there is no point talking or discussing them here. The Chief Justice of India has taken care of the situation.”

The Centre’s attack on the Collegium system – now redundant after the NJAC Act became law — came a day after the Bench hinted mischief on the government’s part for blocking the appointment of a person to the Supreme Court.

In the hearing, Mr. Rohatgi said there are numerous examples to show that great lawyers may at times not make brilliant judges.

“To say, a body of judges can exclusively decide judicial appointments is a myth and completely undemocratic,” he submitted.

He assured that independence of the judiciary would not be hurt merely because the judiciary lost primacy and has to do with parity in judicial appointments under the new NJAC regime.

Besides, Mr. Rohatgi pointed out that the CJI and two senior-most judges in the NJAC enjoy the power to veto judicial appointments.

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