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Shield plan for judge panel

New Delhi, Dec. 9: The proposed judicial appointments commission (JAC) should enjoy constitutional status so that it doesn’t face legal challenges and similar panels should be set up in states for high courts, a parliamentary panel has suggested.

Another key recommendation of the panel, whose report was placed in both Houses today, was that the JAC should have eight members instead of the six originally proposed.

The panel has suggested the induction of Vice-President as commission chairperson and the seventh member, saying his vote would help avoid situations of a tie.

The eighth member, it said, could be a representative from either of the following categories — SCs, STs, OBCs, women or minorities.

The proposed JAC is aimed at replacing the present collegium system under which the Chief Justice of India and his four senior-most colleagues decide on appointments/transfers of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.

The bill for the JAC was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 29 this year. The chairman of the upper House had then referred the legislation to the parliamentary committee to examine it further and elicit the views of various stakeholders such as legal experts, the bar and NGOs.

Under the original bill, the commission was to comprise the Chief Justice of India — as the ex-officio chairperson — two senior most judges of the Supreme Court, the Union law minister and two eminent persons. The duo were to be nominated by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

The highlight of the House panel’s report was its proposal that the JAC be accorded constitutional status by amending the statute.

For this, the panel said, the commission should be included under Article 368 of the Constitution which mandates that certain amendments carried out by Parliament are immune to judicial scrutiny.

“The committee joins the concern echoed by many stakeholders who appeared (before the panel) pleading for giving protection of Article 368 of the Constitution to the structure and functions of the JAC. The committee accordingly recommends that structure and functions of the commission be mentioned in the Constitution itself,” said the report by the panel of 40 MPs with Congress leader Shantaram Naik as its chairman.

It cited “apprehensions expressed by legal luminaries” to conclude that constitutional status was necessary for such a commission. It said the purpose would be served by putting the JAC under Article 368, which lists amendments that “shall not be called into question in any court on any ground”.

The panel pushed for similar judicial commissions in states. It argued that going through the process of appointing 800-odd judges for the 24 high courts in the country would be a “cumbersome task” for a single JAC.

If the suggestion for state-level commissions is accepted and passed, it will limit the JAC’s role to apex court judges.

The panel said the list of vacancies of judges should be published in newspapers so all eligible members of the bar (advocates) can apply for the posts.