New Delhi, Sept. 14: Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam today said judicial independence “should not be so lightly dismissed”, obliquely expressing displeasure at the government’s move to invest itself with a say in judges’ appointments.
He clarified he was “not going into the contents of the bill” passed by the Rajya Sabha to replace the current collegium system under which only judges can appoint judges, since legislation was the government’s (and Parliament’s) prerogative.
But he added that it was “for the people” to accept or reject the bill, appearing to suggest he wanted public opinion to build against the government stand.
The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is now before a parliamentary standing committee. If the panel makes changes to it, the bill will have to be passed in both Houses again.
After that, at least half the state legislatures will have to clear it for it to become law. The judiciary fears a government say in judicial appointments will encroach on and stifle its independence.
“Indeed, independence is a vital component of a judge’s accountability since a judiciary which is not truly independent, competent or possessed of integrity would not be able to give any accountability of itself,” Justice Sathasivam said.
“Thus, judicial independence should not be so lightly dismissed. The issue of prime importance is how to detect judicial wrongs accurately, to investigate (them) fairly, and to eradicate (them) effectively without eroding an independent judiciary.”
His comments came at the inauguration of a conference on “Strengthening Institutions to Meet Current Challenges”, organised by The Bar Association of India here.
“As Chief Justice of India, I am not going into the contents of the bill and how it was passed as it is the prerogative of the government. It is for the people to accept it or not. It is too early for me to say anything on the Judicial Appointments Commission or Committee (to be formed when the bill becomes law),” Justice Sathasivam said.
He added: “Given the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, it cannot be refuted that, at times, they (the judiciary) are exposed to public scrutiny and criticism. Although both judicial independence and judicial accountability are vital for maintaining the rule of law, they are sometimes projected as conflicting.”
He said the success of a democracy largely depended on an impartial, strong and independent judiciary endowed with sufficient power to administer justice.
“Judicial accountability has become an indispensable counterbalance to judicial independence. In that connection, accountability is fostered through the process of selection, discipline and removal found in the Constitution and the statutes in various judicial systems.”