Collegium system is law of the land: SC pulls up govt again on judges’ appts

A three-member SC bench said that a law declared by the apex court is binding on all stakeholders. The court also asked AG to advise Union ministers to exercise control over their public criticism of the collegium system and statements made recently were “not being taken very well”

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The Supreme Court adjourned the case dealing with the delay in appointment of judges to the higher judiciary for next week.

In the ongoing row between the Supreme Court (SC) and the Centre over the issue of judicial appointments, the top court on Thursday (December 8) talked tough pulling up the government stating that the collegium system is the law of the land and should be “followed to the teeth”.

And, just because some sections of the society express a view against the collegium system, it will not cease to be the law of the land, affirmed a three-member SC bench. The three-member bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay S Oka, and Vikram Nath told Attorney General R Venkataramani during a hearing on the matter that a law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all stakeholders.

Justice Kaul observed that tomorrow, people will say the basic structure is also not a part of Constitution. “If every section of the society starts laying down which law is to be followed and which isn’t, then it will lead to a breakdown. Till the law is there we will follow it. If you want to bring some other law, you can always bring some law – if it stands (judicial) scrutiny,” said the judge.

Further, the SC told Attorney General R Venkataramani to advise Union ministers to exercise control over their public criticism of the collegium system and that statements made recently were “not being taken very well”.

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“Speeches made by the high constitutional functionaries in public, making comments on the Supreme Court Collegium, are not very well taken. You have to advise them,” said the top court.

On Wednesday, vice-president Jagdeep Dhankhar had told the parliament in his address at the opening of the winter session that scrapping the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act on judicial appointments is a “glaring instance” of “severe compromise” of parliamentary sovereignty and disregard of the “mandate of the people”.

Underscoring the primacy of an elected government, he said a law passed by parliament was “undone by the Supreme Court”.

Dhankar’s comments has upped the ante in the tussle over the judges’ appointments. Recently, law minister Kiren Rijiju said the government should have a role in selection of judges, which has been the purview of the Supreme Court Collegium since 1991.

The NJAC bill, which was passed in 2015, had given the government a role in judicial appointments. However, following petitions that said the Act would compromise the independence of the judiciary, it was scrapped by a Constitutional Bench of the SC.

Meanwhile, at the hearing today, the court on the matter of the central government returning several names for judicial appointments, said, “Nineteen names were sent back. How will this ping-pong battle settle? When the HC collegium clears names, and the collegium clears the name, there are many factors involved. There is some hierarchy.”.

Noting that the Attorney General will discuss the case with the government, the Supreme Court adjourned the case over delay in appointment of judges to the higher judiciary for next week.

Last week, calling itself the “most transparent institution”, the top court said the collegium system should not be derailed on the basis of statements of “some busybody.”

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