Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju recently voiced his concerns over the collegium system of judicial appointments.
He called the collegium system opaque and said that the ‘fittest’ persons should be appointed as judges and not just someone whom the collegium knows. He said that there is immense politics involved in the judiciary, but the same is not shown.
He also made clear that if the system is opaque, it is the Law Minister’s duty to speak up, thereby voicing the opinion of the public.
He further said that the collegium system is alien to the constitutional scheme of things and that the government cannot be always expected to blindly sign on the names recommended by the collegium.
The Supreme Court criticised the opinion of the Law Minister. It said that collegium is the law of the land which should be followed to the teeth. The government through the Attorney General was advised to exercise ‘control’.
This happened when a bench of Justices SK Kaul, AS Oka and Vikram Nath was hearing a contempt petition against the Centre for not approving the collegium recommendations.
Subsequently, the Law Minister, in a different context, made a valid point that if the Supreme Court starts hearing bail applications and all frivolous PILs, it will definitely cause a lot of extra burden.
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) himself jumped in on this while hearing a criminal matter, and in his pointed response stated that no case is too small for the Supreme Court to interfere.
He said, “we are here to answer the call of conscience and the cry for liberty of citizens”. It is the duty of the court to intervene and protect the personal liberty of citizens, he added. Again, during a lecture on “Law and Morality”, CJI DY Chandrachud said that no case is small enough or big enough for any court.
Practically speaking, the Supreme Court should in fact not entertain bail applications as there are many other urgent matters which require interference of the highest courts and bail applications many a times consume a large chunk of judicial time.
Considering the high pendency, it would be best to restrict bail applications to High Courts, with the Supreme Court interfering only in extreme and rare cases.
The Law Minister, subsequently, highlighted that long vacations in the top court causes inconvenience to litigants. To this, the CJI again responded that no bench will sit till 2 January 2023.
While vacation benches are normally constituted during summer and winter vacations, the CJI categorically stated that there won’t be any vacation benches during the break.
Ironically, CJI Chandrachud, when he was the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, was the one who spearheaded a campaign for vacation benches and requested the bar and the bench to be available during vacations.
While keeping the merits of the aforementioned statements aside, it appears that there were concerted efforts by the CJI to respond and to negate the statements made by the Law Minister.
Ideally, the Supreme Court and the CJI especially should not engage in war of words with any political body/person. Any CJI should be mindful too that he/she is not unduly seen as an opposition to the government of the day but only as the neutral, apex judicial authority.
A CJI is expected to take the criticisms of the Judiciary positively and engage in proper dialogues with the executive. A constant war of words with the executive only lowers the authority of the courts and diminishes public trust in the judicial systems.
While several legal scholars have criticised the opinion of the Law Minister and he was advised to not cross the “Lakshman Rekha”. However, the statements of the Law Minister are not personal remarks against the CJI, but constructive criticism of the working of the judicial system as a whole, which also comes as a part of his duty as the Law Minister.
At this point in time, the criticisms of the collegium system of appointment is well documented and going by the statistics, more than 50 per cent of the judges working in high courts across the country are related to higher ups in the legal field.
Therefore, it becomes the duty of the Law Minister to take up the mantle on behalf of the citizens and take necessary steps in his capacity for reforming the judicial system.
The words of the Law Minister should be a source of solace for the Indian citizens as he is doing the much-needed task of coaxing the judiciary to be more accountable and transparent.
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