Crime-Justice

Government interference in judiciary: Senior lawyers echo judge's concern

March 31, 2018 04:15 PM

Punjab News Express
NEW DELHI: Senior Supreme Court lawyers have echoed Justice J. Chelameswar's concern over the government's interference in the appointment of judges, saying there is "too much" interference of the executive in the appointment of "judges with independent minds".

Terming it a wake-up call, eminent senior lawyers urged the top court judges to "act decisively" in the guarding judiciary from governmental interference and uphold its independence "once and for all".

As Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh said, there was "too much interference by the government", senior counsel Dushyant Dave told IANS the "executive interference in the administration of the judiciary will sound the death knell for the judiciary".

The Modi government is not interested in the "best names" but is definitely interested in "obstructing the names of people with independent minds", said Vikas Singh, suggesting "if the collegium was to do its job diligently, the Centre would have less chance to interfere".

Dave urged the judges of the top court to "wake up from their slumber and act decisively to stop the executive interference once and for all".

The concern of the senior lawyers is rooted in the government sitting over the recommendation of the top court collegium for the appointment of judges to the high court and the Supreme Court, including recommendations for their transfers.

It is echoed in Justice Chelameswar's letter, where he said: "For some time, our unhappy experience has been that the government's accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. 'Inconvenient' but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route."

There are about 230 names recommended by the top court collegium for appointment as judges of various high courts which are pending with the government for clearance since nearly a year-and-a-half.

Even in the case of the Supreme Court, two names -- Chief Justice of Uttrakhand High Court K.M. Joseph and senior lawyer Indu Malhotra -- for appointment as top court judges did not find favour with the government.

Though the Supreme Court has a sanctioned strength of 31 judges, at present there are 27 judges. Another six are going to retire this year, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra who will demit office on October 2.

Justice R.K. Agrawal (May 4), Justice Chelameswar (June 22), Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (July 6), Justice Kurian Joseph (November 29) and Justice Madan B. Lokur (December 30) will also demit office.

If the delay by the government on the appointment of judges continues, the actual working strength of top court judges will come down to 21 with the retirement of the six judges.

"The issues raised are very, very vital for furthering the doctrine of separation of power, rule of law and the independence of judiciary," former Additional Solicitor General and senior counsel Bishwajit Bhattacharyya told IANS.

In each of the known cases where the government stalled the recommendation of the top court collegium, the people involved had done something perceived as against the government -- be it the case of the recommendation of senior counsel Gopal Subramanium as a top court judge or elevation of Justice K.M. Joseph to the Supreme Court.

Stressing that Justice Chelameswar's March 21 letter to Chief Justice Misra "again underlines what the four judges had implicitly said in their January 12 press conference", well-known lawyer Prashant Bhushan told IANS: "The government is severely interfering with the judiciary and trying to compromise its independence."

Pointing to the dangers of the compromised judiciary to the over-all functioning of democracy, he said: "A compromised judiciary could be a serious threat to democracy."

Justice Chelameswar's letter is a "dire warning about the state of Indian judiciary, which is seriously compromised by the executive", said Dave, a view shared by Bhushan, who lamented that "unfortunately, the Chief Justice is not doing anything to stop this interference by the government".

Independence of judiciary, Dave said, comes not just from the judgments but also from the "control and supervision of the entire judiciary by the Supreme Court and its collegium".

In a criticism of the collegium, Vikas Singh said it should fill all the vacancies in one go.

Urging the collegium to try and identify the best people available for selection as judges and go the extra mile by inviting and requesting them to become judges, he said the problem is that the best of the candidates are not engaged in lobbying and self-promotion.

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