New Delhi: The ‘Supreme Court versus Union government’ tussle entered a new phase with Union law minister Kiren Rijiju publicly saying on Monday that judges do not have to face elections or public scrutiny after appointment but are nonetheless being assessed by the people. He also claimed that a Chief Justice of India had asked him to ‘take concrete steps’ on social media posts against judges.
Rijiju’s comments at a Delhi Bar Association event at the Tis Hazari Courts in New Delhi on January 23 are the latest in the almost daily back and forth between the judiciary and executive over the appointment of judges.
The Supreme Court collegium recently made public the Union government’s reasons for its continued opposition to the appointment of judges it has recommended. Speaking at a separate event on Tuesday, January 24, the law minister said that “putting secret reports in the public domain is a matter of grave concern”.
On Monday, Rijiju said, according to LiveLaw, that the public is ‘watching’ judges and making assessments.
“Judges are appointed once and they don’t have to face elections. Judges can’t even be scrutinised by the public. Public can’t change judges but it is looking at them, their judgements, their way of functioning and dispensing justice. Public is watching all and making assessments. Nothing is hidden in the age of social media,” Rijiju said.
Rijiju also claimed that when he had been the leader of the opposition, there were not many “avenues and opportunities to engage in public discussions” and that very few lawmakers participated in television debates.
He also said that unlike earlier, the public can now question the government, thanks to social media. “Questions must also be asked. If you won’t question the elected government, then who else will you question?” Rijiju said.
On a CJI’s request to tackle social media posts against judges – Rijiju did not specify who had made the request – the law minister said that it was on a large scale and thus little action could be taken.
“We are also facing public scrutiny and public criticism on a daily basis including the judges. That’s why you will get to see that judges are careful these days,” he said.
Rijiju also called for a “robust independent judiciary” for democracy to succeed.
He also claimed that he and CJI Chandrachud are in contact with each other often and said that there can be differences of opinions between two people who discuss issues.
He also said that the letter he wrote to the CJI on the presence of a government representative in the SC collegium was “not a public announcement.”
“This is a sensitive matter. Collegium has five people – Chief Justice and four judges. How can I bring someone from somewhere and put them there? There has to be a way. On this lie, former judges and senior lawyers gave statements,” he said, repeating his earlier line that he had only referred to a direction given by the Supreme Court in the 2015 ruling in which it quashed the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
Making secret reports public is ‘serious’
On Tuesday, Rijiju disapproved of the Supreme Court collegium making public the Union government’s objections to appointing three persons as judges of various high courts. The collegium had disclosed that the objections to Saurabh Kirpal’s elevation to the Delhi high court was that he was openly gay and his partner was a foreign national; the government objected to R. John Sathyan’s elevation to the Madras HC by citing two social media posts, including one in which he shared an article that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and the opposition to Somasekhar Sundaresan’s elevation to the Bombay high court was that he had aired his view on several matters that are to be considered by constitutional courts.
“Putting secret reports in the public domain is a matter of grave concern. But I will speak about this at an appropriate time,” Rijiju said, according to Indian Express. “If the concerned officer who is working for the nation in disguise or in secret will think twice that his report may also be put in the public domain and that will have implications,” the minister added.
Note: This article was originally published at 10:43 am on January 24, 2022 and republished at 8:23 pm on the same day.