Citing Justice Karnan Ruling, Modi Government Urges SC to Revisit Judge Selection Process

The Supreme Court collegium had in March rejected nearly every contentious clause that the Centre had insisted upon in appointing judges to the higher courts.

Justice Karnan was recently sentenced to six-months in jail for contempt of court. Credit: PTI

Justice Karnan was recently sentenced to six-months in jail for contempt of court. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: A fresh round of confrontation between the executive and the judiciary is likely on the cards with the Modi government citing the Justice C.S. Karnan case to urge the apex court to revaluate its stand on the judge selection process.

According to a DNA report, the Centre has cited the concurring judgement in the contempt case of the former Calcutta high court judge and had last week written a letter to the Supreme Court registrar-general urging the need for the collegium to revisit the recommendations made by the Centre.

In the concurring judgement on July 6, Justices Jasti Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi had noted that the case of Justice Karnan – who was recently sentenced to six-months imprisonment for contempt of court – indicated the need to revisit the judge selection process.

The development comes after the Supreme Court collegium had in March finalised the memorandum of procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges to the apex court and high court, in the process rejecting nearly every contentious clause that the Centre insisted upon as grounds for determining eligibility.

According to an Indian Express report, the five-judge collegium – headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar – had at the time unanimously rejected the Centre’s recommendation that the government be given the power to veto any appointment as a judge to the high court on the claim of “national security”.

The collegium had also rejected the recommendation of setting up a complaints committee of three judges of the apex court ­– none of whom would be a member of the collegium – to probe complaints against high court judges.

According to DNA, the collegium had also turned down the Modi government’s recommendation of a screening-cum-evaluation committee that would be responsible for filtering eligible candidates.

Incidentally, Justices Chelameswar and Gogoi had, in their concurring judgement, brought up the need for a legal system to punish judges of the superior judiciary whose offences did not warrant impeachment:

“This case [Justice Karnan case], in our opinion, has importance extending beyond the immediate problem. This case highlights two things – the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts, for that matter any member of the judiciary at all levels; and the need to set up appropriate legal regime to deal with situations where the conduct of a judge of a constitutional court requires corrective measures – other than impeachment – to be taken.”

Drafting of the new MoP began in October 2014 after an apex court bench declared the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act passed by the parliament as “unconstitutional and void” on the grounds that giving the government a substantial say in the appointments of judges would compromise the independence of the judiciary.

The five-judge bench headed by the Justice Khehar had at that time directed the government to finalise a new MoP in consultation with the chief justice.

(With PTI inputs)