Ex Chief Justice Counters Law Minister’s Comment On Collegium

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Justice UU Lalit (Retired) said Kiren Rijiju’s views were “personal”.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court collegium is a “perfectly correct and balanced” way to appoint judges, former Chief Justice UU Lalit told NDTV on Sunday, after Union Law Minister Kiren called the system “opaque”.

“These (“opaque, unaccountable”) are his personal views… It’s a perfectly, correct and balanced way of doing things. It is a system where every viewpoint is considered,” he said in an exclusive interview, days after his retirement earlier this week.

The appointments of judges are cleared by the collegium only after multiple levels of review, including by the government, Justice Lalit said. He also spoke about the pace of these appointments, critical to clear the huge backlog of cases in various courts of the country.

“The entire process [of appointments] must have a dialogue between government and collegium. The sooner, the better because today we are 27 at the sanctioned strength of 34. The delay in appointment can put off a person, and then he might say they don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

The comments come two days after the Supreme Court expressed displeasure over the delay by the Centre in clearing the names recommended for appointment as judges in the higher judiciary, including those reiterated by the collegium, and said keeping them pending is “not acceptable”.

Last week, speaking to news channel India Today, Mr Rijiju had said, “I am not critical about the judiciary or the judges, but I state a fact which is the reflection of the thinking of the common people of India. The collegium system is opaque and isn’t accountable. Judges and lawyers too believe this.”

Before that, the Law Minister had claimed that “the people of the country are not happy” with the collegium system and according to the spirit of the constitution, it is the government’s job to appoint judges.

Headed by the Chief Justice of India and comprising four senior-most judges of the court, the collegium recommends names for appointment and transfers of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts. The system has evolved through judgments of the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice UU Lalit (Retired) also told NDTV how he managed to dispose of 10,000 cases in his 74-day tenure, divvying up cases with a “T-20” approach, between two, three and five-judge benches.

He addressed questions about appearing for Union Home Minister Amit Shah as a lawyer in the past, saying it was “inconsequential” as he was not the lead counsel, and said it was not “correct” for judges to accept Rajya Sabha or Governor roles after their retirement.

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