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India: Judges' collegium system on its way out
Wednesday August 13, 2014 10:18 PM, IANS

The Lok Sabha Wednesday passed two bills which will pave the way for scrapping the collegium system of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges. But the move did not cheer the legal fraternity which felt the government may encroach on judicial independence.

The Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (99th Amendment) Bill and the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Bill 2014 after Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad assured the members that the government does not have any intention of interfering in the functioning of the judiciary.

While the judicial appointments commission bill was passed by a voice vote, the constitution amendment bill, which seeks to confer constitutional status on the proposed commission, was passed after a division, with 376 members voting in its favour.

It is necessary for the constitution amendment bill to be passed by a two-thirds majority.

The bills will now have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha before they are sent to the president for his assent, after which they become Acts.

However, it won't be smooth sailing in the upper house as the Congress, which has more numbers, could stall the bill.

The two bills seek to scrap the collegium system of appointing judges and set up a commission for this.

But legal experts expressed doubts about the new system of selecting judges.

Speaking to IANS, activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was not in "public interest" as it gives veto power to government to stop any appointment thereby compromising the independence of judiciary.

Former additional solicitor general and senior counsel Bishwajit Bhattacharyya described it as a retrograde step that will compromise the independence of the judiciary.

Desisting from outright rejection of the NJAC, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president P.H. Parekh felt there should have been wide ranging consultation and deliberations before the government moved to push out the collegium system.

On Monday, Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha had defended the existing mechanism while lashing out at the "unfair" and "misleading campaign" to defame the judiciary and to tarnish its images.

Law and Justice Minister Prasad, however, tried to allay fears.

"A large section of people do not have representation in the judiciary as of now. The process of consultation has been made more meaningful," he said.

"The need for a new law is not the thinking of only our government. It is a collective exercise which has been in the offing for the last 20 years," he added.

He said the measures were aimed at ensuring that only meritorious people are selected as judges to the higher judiciary.

He also said the new law will provide for wider consultations for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts.

"We are for maintaining the sanctity of the judiciary... We have said this house respects independence of judiciary. That should be assuring," he said.

Seeking the support of all parties, he said, "Let the message go that this house is one for maintaining dignity of the judiciary."

Suggesting that the existing collegium system of judges appointing judges had flaws, he said many good judges could not make it to the Supreme Court.

The law minister also moved an amendment to change the number of the constitution amendment bill from 121st to 99th, which was passed by the house.

Earlier, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge asked the government to make a provision to make representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes mandatory in the judicial commission.

The bills propose that the Chief Justice of India will head a six-member National Judicial Appointments Commission, other members of which would be the law minister, two senior Supreme Court judges and two eminent people.

A collegium comprising of the prime minister, the chief justice of India and the leader of the single largest party in the Lok Sabha will select the two eminent people.

One eminent person will be nominated from among the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, minorities or women.

The bill states that the commission will seek the views of the governor and chief minister of the state concerned in writing before appointing or transferring a judge of that high court.

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