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SC to take up judge appointments

New Delhi, Jan. 13: The Supreme Court today vacated a Madras High Court order for “status quo” that had put on hold the appointment of a dozen judges in a case that earlier saw a sitting judge openly question the choice of probables.

Justices B.S. Chauhan and J. Chelameshwar said the matter was “serious” enough to be taken up by the top court.

“Yes, we agree the issue is serious. It is a very serious matter not only for the institution but also otherwise. We will consider it,” the bench said.

The court, however, told attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati, the Centre’s senior-most law officer, that he couldn’t name a judge in court without making him a party to the case.

The judge in question, Justice C.S. Karnan, a judge of the high court, had created a furore in the high court and bar circles by walking into a court hall and saying the appointment process was unfair and needed to be quashed.

A division bench of the high court had on January 9 stayed the appointment process by passing the “status quo” order, which means no further step shall be taken in a particular case until further orders.

The Supreme Court vacated the stay order and issued notices to the secretary-general of the apex court, the Centre, the Tamil Nadu government and senior advocate R. Gandhi, on whose petition the high court had passed the January 9 order.

The apex court’s order came on an appeal filed by the Madras High Court registrar-general challenging the division bench order.

The bench also issued a notice on the attorney-general’s plea for transferring the case to the apex court as the atmosphere in the high court was not conducive for further hearing in the matter. The bench asked the respondents to reply within two weeks.

“Meanwhile, the Madras High Court is restrained from proceeding further in the matter. The status quo order stands vacated. We are of the view that the names forwarded by the high court to the law ministry is in the form of a recommendation. It has to undergo… filtration process at different levels,” the court said in its interim order.

According to rules, the Union law ministry, which is considering the names, has to take the views of the IB and later forwards the list to the Chief Justice of India. The CJI, along with four other senior-most judges, takes the final decision.

Justice C.S. Karnan, who had walked into the high court saying the appointment process was not fair, had agreed with senior advocate Gandhi that the 12 candidates did not fulfil the basic eligibility criterion of having a minimum experience of 10 years at the bar to become a judge.

Justice Chelameshwar, however, told Vahanvati that he couldn’t name the high court judge since he was not a party to the case. “Mr Attorney, you cannot take the name of the judge. You have not made him a party in the case, so you cannot take out his name,” the judge told the law officer who tried to draw the court’s attention to the role of Justice Karnan in the high court’s status quo order.

Vahanvati agreed but said the issue involved in the stay on the appointment of the judges was serious.

He referred to a 2009 judgment of the apex court in a case where it was ruled that appointments of judicial officers were not subject to judicial review unless the candidate fell short of the eligibility criteria.