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Govt to present views before Supreme Court tomorrow on improving collegium system

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Seeking to make the collegium system “more participatory”, the government is likely to suggest to the Supreme Court on Tuesday constitution of a committee of eminent persons which would scrutinise candidates for appointment to the higher judiciary before the collegium takes the final call.

As part of its suggestions to improve the collegium system, the government may also tell the apex court that the criteria for selection of judges should be made transparent and the reasons for selecting or rejecting a candidate must be put in public domain.

Sources in the government said today the apex court is likely to be told that to usher in transparency, the Supreme Court collegium should record the reasons for selection or rejection of a candidate and the same should be put in public domain, according to a draft response framed by the government.

The government may tell the apex court that the best way to introduce a “more participatory” system would be to have a panel of eminent persons who would tell the collegium their opinion on the candidates shortlisted to help the panel of top five SC judges take an informed decision before making recommendations to the government.

The SC collegium decides on the appointment of High Court judges, their transfer and promotion as Chief Justice of a High Court and their elevation to the apex court based on the suggestions made by judges of that high court and SC justices who had earlier worked there.

The recommendations of the SC collegium are then sent to the government which may either approve them or send them back with a ‘request to reconsider’. If the collegium reiterates the recommendation, government has to accept it. The government may also tell the apex court to define the criteria for selection of judges for the higher judiciary and it must be part of the memorandum of procedure.

While one memorandum of procedure — an executive order drafted after the collegium came into being over 20 years ago — deals with high courts, the other deals with the Supreme Court.

The government may also suggest bringing the decisions of the collegium under the ambit of the Right to Information Act, though its plans to ask the SC to record the decisions of the collegium and put them in public domain goes beyond the requirements of the right to information law.

The Law Ministry had earlier conveyed to the apex court’s e-committee to make the SC-monitored National Judicial Data Grid more broad-based, where the performance of the SC and HCs should be appropriately displayed along with the performance of the subordinate judiciary.

Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda on Monday met top law officers and senior functionaries of the Law Ministry to give a final shape to the government’s response to Supreme Court seeking suggestions for improving the collegium system. Gowda could also consult some of his senior Cabinet colleagues tonight on the issue. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi will carry the final word of the government to the Supreme Court tomorrow.

The Supreme Court bench comprising justices J S Khehar, J Chelameswar, M B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Goel, which had delivered a unanimous verdict quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, will tomorrow hear suggestions to improve the collegium system.

A review petition against the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act and the 99th constitutional amendment Act has also been filed in the apex court by advocate Mathew J Nedumbara.