New Delhi: The Supreme Court has issued a public statement responding to various news reports surrounding controversies around how the highest court’s collegium transfers or elevates judges. The brief statement said that “if found necessary, the Collegium will have no hesitation in disclosing” the reasons for the transfer of judges of high courts and chief justices.
The statement comes after many protests and boycotts were held regarding the transfer of Madras high court Chief Justice Vijaya K. Tahilramani to a smaller court following which she resigned in protest. Additionally, the delay in the elevation of Justice Akil A. Kureshi of the Gujarat high court has also landed in controversy.
The collegium’s process for transferring and elevating judges has so far been a secretive one that involves taking into consideration various intelligence inputs given by the government. The collegium also speaks to colleagues from various courts to better comprehend the stature of lawyers or judges and also studies the judgments written by the judges.
The Supreme Court’s statement says that each of the collegium’s recommendations for transfers was “made for cogent reasons after complying with the required procedure in the interest of better administration of justice.” It said that each recommendation was made only after “full and complete deliberations” were made which were also unanimously agreed upon.
The statement also said that though it would not be in the interest of the Supreme Court to disclose the reasons for the transfers, it would be done if necessary.
Chief Justice Tahilramani had been a judge of the Bombay high court for seventeen years and its acting chief justice for a few months and had served as the chief justice of the Madras high court since August 2018. She was transferred by the Supreme Court collegium from the Madras high court, which has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, to the position of chief justice of Meghalaya high court, which has a sanctioned strength of just three judges.
Tahilramani, who was due to retire in 2020, requested the collegium to reconsider her transfer but it was rejected following which she resigned in protest.
Many commentators have said that this could be linked to a decision she took in 2017, when as a judge, she presided over the case of Bilkis Bano who was raped during the Gujarat riots. She upheld the sentence given to the 11 accused.
Supreme Court Justice (Retired) M.B. Lokur recently spoke about events surrounding the transfer of judges. He said there was an “absence of consistence bordering on arbitrariness.” He said that “there are no fixed criteria for selection of judges to the SC and the requirements keep changing.”
An analysis in LiveLaw studied the cases of several judges, explaining how several of them seem arbitrary.
In Tahilramani’s case, the advocates of the Madras high court protested against the collegium’s decision and even boycotted courts for a day.
In Kureshi’s case as well, the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (GHCAA) filed a petition questioning the delay in confirming his elevation. The Supreme Court collegium had recommended that he be transferred to the Bombay high court.
Some believe that the controversy around his elevation is linked to the fact that he had remanded the current Union home minister Amit Shah to police custody in 2010 in connection with the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.
The Guwahati High Court Bar Association has also asked the Centre to return the collegium’s proposal to transfer Justice Ujjal Bhuyan. Here as well, the collegium had recommended that the judge be transferred to the Bombay high court.
The Telangana High Court Bar Association has also been protesting the transfer of Justice Sanjay Kumar to the Punjab and Haryana high court.