SC slams Centre for sitting over judicial appointments, scuttling them

New Delhi, Oct 28 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday slammed the Centre for sitting over the top court collegium’s recommendations on the appointment of high court judges, saying the action amounted to paralysing and locking out the judiciary.

Telling the government that no attempt to paralyse the judicial institution will be tolerated, a bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao said all courtrooms on the ground floor of the Karnataka High Court building were locked for want of judges.

The Chief Justice pointed out that the recommendations for appointment of judges to the Allahabad High Court were pending with the government for the past nine months. The Chief Justice said the collegium recommended 18 names, but the central government pruned the list to eight and now the court is being told that two names have been cleared.

He said if the government had any problems with any name, it could send the same back, but it cannot sit over it, pointing out that the high courts were functioning at 50 per cent of their sanctioned strength.

“We had a situation when there were judges but no courtrooms; today, we have courtrooms but no judges. Half of the courtrooms in the Karnataka High Court are locked. You can as well have the whole courts locked and close down justice,” the Chief Justice said.

“It is not anybody’s ego. It is the institution that suffers,” the Chief Justice told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, reminding him that he was the leader of the Bar and will have to play a constructive role.

“You want to lock out justice,” the Chief Justice asked Rohatgi, who said that non-finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure was coming in the way of the government in clearing the recommendations.

At this, Chief Justice Thakur asked how then had the government cleared other names, pointing out that in the absence of a new Memorandum of Procedure the appointments could be made on the basis of the old MoP.

As Rohatgi said that the old MoP was contrary to the Supreme Court judgement that struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and that the object of the new MoP was to bring the appointment procedure under light, the Chief Justice said: “If you (government) insist that the MoP must be finalised before the appointment (of judges) then we will sit in a Constitution Bench and say the government will not be allowed to scuttle judicial appointments till it frames a new MoP.”

Reminding the Attorney General of the Union Law Minister’s statement that non-finalisation of the MoP would not come in the way of appointment of judges, Chief Justice Thakur said: “The MoP is your red herring. The Law Minister and the government has repeatedly told us that the process of finalisation of the MoP will not stall judicial appointments process. Now, are you saying there is a deadlock on the MoP and you want it cleared first before appointing judges?

“We don’t want to clash with you. But if you go on like this, we will form a five-judge Bench and say you are scuttling appointments,” Chief Justice Thsakur told the Attorney General as the later said that the “idea is not to scuttle the appointments”.

“If everything can be done without an MoP, why do you need the MoP in the first place?”

The Chief Justice said: “They (appointments) are languishing. When the collegium has cleared, why are you sitting on them?”

The court directed further hearing in the matter on November 11.