Department of Justice, Govt of India
Department of Justice, Govt of India
Suggestions to improve the working of Collegium System for appointing/elevating High Court and Supreme Court judges
Thank you for soliciting public opinion on this important issue. Appointment and elevation of judges of the higher judiciary is indeed the key to ensuring efficient and unbiased administration of justice for citizens of India.
My humble suggestions are as below:
1) Judges desirous of being selected, elevated or transferred should be required to formally apply to the collegium, clearly stating their own eligibility for such selection or elevation.
2) Individual members of the collegium may propose or support eligible candidates for selection, elevation, transfer to a different High Court etc., but this should be done in writing to the chief of that collegium (Chief Justice) and their recommendations etc. must be placed on record.
3) The chief of the collegium may also propose eligible candidates, but to prevent him from abusing his pre-eminent position, candidates proposed by him must be independently scrutinized by other collegium judges, and their opinions (whether favourable or adverse) must be placed on record.
4) The proposed candidates should be shortlisted by the collegium secretariat based on independently verifiable factors such as rate of case-disposal, length of tenure in the present and previous positions, complaints, etc.
5) The income and assets of High Court and Supreme Court judges and their close relatives should be regularly appraised by the Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG) to ensure that (a) true accounts are being rendered and (b) asset growth is within the bounds of official income sources. Judges about whom CAG raises red flags must not be considered eligible for any elevation until CAG’s questions are satisfactorily answered, and the investigation is complete.
6) Judges about whom CAG raises red flags must be transferred at the earliest to another High Court in order to break any existing nexus, and to facilitate independent investigations, unhindered by the influential position of the judge.
7) Judges found to be lobbying, engaging in backroom-politics and/or trading favours with influential persons (including senior counsels, judges, ministers, bureaucrats, party leaders, business magnates, etc.) for procuring preferential treatment from the collegium must be sent a stern warning letter by the chief of the collegium for the first offence, disqualified from applying to the collegium for three years in case of a second offence, and permanently debarred from elevations in case of a third offence.
8) All elevations and selections must be made by an independently verifiable process, minimizing the scope for subjective elements of favouritism, nepotism, political appointments, etc.
9) Any collegium judge who shows tendencies of over-ruling or short-circuiting the due process must be debarred from further participation in the collegium.
10) All meetings of the collegiums should be video-recorded with good audio quality. Decisions of the collegium must reflect scrupulous following of due-process and best practices.
11) All the above-mentioned documents and audio-recordings of the collegiums and candidates must be available to citizens from the Collegium Secretariat under Right To Information Act. Ideally, such documents should be routinely uploaded on the website of the respective High Court or Supreme Court, and available through a simple net-search.
1) Collegium Secretariat should be a single centralized organization headquartered in New Delhi, with offices in every High Court. Secretariat in each state should be headed by a team of senior bureaucrats who are suitably insulated from pulls and pressures by judges, lawyers, ministers, etc. It must support the Collegium in its decision-making with all the background-data of candidates, as well as objective comparison and analysis of the data along various parameters.
2) Secretariat must maintain eligibility records of each and every judge of the higher judiciary, as well as judges, senior advocates and others who apply for judgeship in the higher judiciary. It must independently scrutinize each and every candidate and his/her background, and maintain records of his progress. It must also give ratings to these candidates based on case-disposal rates, number of cases where their judgments have been reversed by higher forum on appeal, and other such parameters.
3) Secretariat must be well-staffed, well equipped, well-funded and suitably empowered to maintain scrupulous records of the proceedings of the collegium, as well as eligibility of each and every judge in the system, as well as senior advocates etc. who have declared themselves desirous of being considered as candidates for judgeship.
1) Short-term elevations to the position of chief justice of various High Courts, just for the sake of rendering the candidate eligible for elevation to the Supreme Court, must be expressly forbidden.
2) Suitable criteria must be proposed by the Supreme Court Collegium, made into an enactment after passing through the houses of Parliament, and scrupulously implemented by the Collegium Secretariat and Ministry of Justice. Making the criteria a law would serve as a way to prevent “moving goal-posts” for favouring some candidates.
1) Suitable rules and formats may be evolved for receiving complaints against individual judges, and integrating it into the eligibility criteria.
2) Suitable laws may also be made to prevent frivolous complaints against judges by parties with vested interest, but also to facilitate the independent investigation of complaints if found to have substance.
Sir, I trust these suggestions and recommendations will be considered and acted upon with due seriousness, to make the Collegium system conducive to the administration of justice for all citizens of India. If necessary, I will be available to depose before a parliamentary committee of the rationale behind these suggestions.
Krishna H Rao