Calcutta, Jan. 6: Lawyers have closed ranks to voice displeasure at the chief minister’s misgivings on four names shortlisted for judges in Calcutta High Court, bringing to the fore an element of the closed-shop attitude the government wants replaced with a transparent system.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had last week sent a letter to the Union law ministry raising objections to the appointment of four lawyers as high court judges.
Today, two associations of lawyers at Calcutta High Court — the Bar Association and the Bar Library Club — criticised the government “for encroaching into judicial affairs”. The secretaries of the associations said “if this practice is allowed to go on, the entire judicial system will collapse”.
Bhaskar Sen, the general secretary of the Bar Library Club, the association of barristers, said: “The chief minister’s observations against some of our members are false. By this, the entire judiciary has been maligned.”
The lawyers said according to the Constitution, a state government has no role in appointing high court judges. “Article 217 of the Constitution, which deals with the appointments of high court judges... confers no powers on the state to interfere in this process. There is a convention to take the advice of respective state governments before appointing high court judges to their states, which the chief minister has misused by making false and illogical statements against our members,” an advocate said.
The government disputed the contention. Law minister Rabilal Moitra said: “According to a Supreme Court judgment, the respective state governments has to be consulted before appointing judges in high courts.”
He said the government had acted “constitutionally” and the chief minister had neither maligned the judiciary nor any lawyer. “We want a fixed policy for appointment of judges in the high court,” he said. “There should be a judicial commission for the appointment of judges so that the process is more transparent.”
Bhattacharjee had earlier spoken in favour of a judicial commission under the Chief Justice of India for appointment of judges as he felt that the present system, in which a collegium of judges plays a critical role, was flawed.
Along with the larger issue of transparency, an undercurrent of political factors is also said to be at play. Some observers see in Bhattacharjee’s letter the extension of a tussle between anti and pro-CPM forces in the high court and trial courts. Bhattacharjee is not directly related to the sub-text that mainly involves Moitra and key functionaries of the CPM-affiliated Democratic Lawyers Forum (DLF).
Despite enjoying the backing of the government, the DLF does not have control over the lawyers. The four lawyers mentioned in the letter are known for being anti-DLF, especially Uttam Majumdar, who is close to the Congress. Moitra is said to have briefed Bhattacharjee on the political leanings, prompting the letter.