Stating that the system for appointing Collegium judges is ‘opaque’ and ‘unaccountable’, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said he must work with the current system until the government offers an alternative mechanism.
Speaking to India today Bombay During Friday’s Conclave, Rijiju said, “I am not criticizing the judiciary or the judges, but I am stating a fact which reflects the thinking of the Indian people… The Collegium system is opaque and not accountable. Judges and lawyers believe it too.
“All over the world, judges don’t appoint judges. But in India, they do. Judges have to spend a lot of time on the whole name recommendation process. A lot of politics is involved in the process,” he said.
“Judges do so much work, nowhere in the world do judges do as much work as judges in India. They need breaks.
They need time. They are human beings. They are not machines. Judges should be involved in the work they are supposed to do. Some of what I said may sound harsh, but no judge has ever told me what I said was wrong. We are a democracy and our sovereignty belongs to the Indian people. People elect their representatives who run the country,” he said.
The Justice Minister said that after the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act in 2015, the government could have taken other steps, but it respected the decision of the most high court and did not act immediately to find other means. He said that does not mean “the government will remain silent forever.”
He also said that the “fittest of people” should be elevated to the rank of judges and not those known to the College.
“In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, but it did not specify which was the best option. They felt the old Collegium system should continue, but I’m not happy with the system,” he said.
Under the projectors
The Collegium has been in the spotlight for some time now, especially after the split within the decision to recommend names of judges via a written memo instead of a formal meeting. Four names proposed by the Collegium under the outgoing CJI are pending, and await its successor and a new Collegium.
Referring to the time the judges of the College devote to the appointment of judges, he said that the judges should be more involved in the work of arbitration, which they are supposed to do.
Stating that the judiciary should not venture into the realm of the executive, Rijiju said, “Should the judiciary run the country or the elected government? If the judiciary enters the domain of the executive, it ventures into a sphere where it is not supposed to.
“A judge must speak through his judgments. The judges’ oral submissions have no bearing on the overall picture. My advice to them is not to get into a situation where you might draw criticism. Do not make unnecessary comments and observations.
“If the judiciary starts framing the rules, if it starts deciding where the road should be built, if the judiciary starts framing the rules of service, what good is the government?” he said, citing cases related to Covid-19 Supreme Court issues and decision regarding the ICC section 124A on sedition.
“In times of Covid, the delhi The High Court bench ordered there to be a panel of experts to handle Covid cases. Then we said to the Solicitor General (Tushar Mehta): “Please inform the Court that this is none of your business. You (the judiciary) cannot do this. It is the government that is best placed to meet the challenges ahead of us,” he said.
He said the Supreme Court in May this year could have withheld an order on the Sedition Act because the government had told the court it was reviewing the provision. The Supreme Court put the law on hold and ordered the Center and state governments to refrain from filing cases under IPC Section 124A.
“Despite this, the Supreme Court struck down the provisions of the Sedition Act. I am very upset about this… If we are adamant about something, we don’t listen to justice, then justice can come down hard (on us). (But) when we’ve already said we’re doing a review, we’ll come back with a better layout. This (sedition) is an old provision of the law, which we are in the process of reviewing. Despite this, if the decision comes from the court, it is certainly not a good thing… There is a Lakshman rekha for everyone. Do not cross the Lakshman rekha for the benefit of the nation,” he said.
Rijiju said: “Not a single action has been taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led by a government for the past eight and a half years that undermines the authority of the judiciary…I strongly believe that the independence of the judiciary must be protected and promoted.