The Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam, on Saturday defended the collegium system for appointment of judges in higher judiciary but said it is a prerogative of the Centre to bring a bill to change it.
“Now as CJI, I am not going into the contents of the bill and how it was passed as it is the prerogative of the government and it is for the people to accept it or not. It is too early for me to say anything on Judicial Appointment Commission or Committee,” Justice Sathasivan said while inaugurating a seminar on Rule of Law.
His remarks came after the President of Bar Association of India, Anil Divan, raised questions on the way the Centre brought the bill “without” taking members of judicial fraternity into confidence and “rushed” it through in Rajya Sabha.
He said they never received any response from the Law Minister on the letter dated April 17 by top jurists of the country seeking a draft copy of the bill.
No name is finalised until clearance
The CJI said that the government and its agencies have a say in the present collegium system and their views are also taken into consideration for appointment of judges.
Justice Sathasivam said that no name is finalised until it gets clearance from the Law Minister, the Prime Minister and the President and in the whole mechanism, inputs from intelligence bureau, respective high courts and eminent people like sons of the soil, are taken into consideration.
He said Judicial function is universally recognised as distinct and separate in the system of government and is the “very heart” of the republic and the “bulwark” of democracy.
He said judicial accountability is fostered through the process of selection, discipline and removal found in the Constitution.
“...The success of a democracy largely depends upon an impartial strong and independent judiciary endowed with sufficient power to administer justice,” the CJI said.
“Although both judicial independence and judicial accountability are vital for maintaining the rule of law, they are sometimes projected as conflicting phenomenon. Judicial accountability has become an indispensable counterbalance to judicial independence.
“In that connection, accountability is fostered through the process of selection, discipline and removal found in the Constitution and the statutes in various judicial systems,” he said.
Stressing the need for an independent judiciary, he said, without it, there is a little hope for the rule of law. .
“Thus, the need for judicial independence is not for judges or the judiciary per se but for the people,” he said.
Confidence in judiciary is growing
Justice Sathasivam said “It is the trust and confidence of the people in this great institution to deliver true, fearless and impartial justice that keeps the system thriving irrespective of shortcomings like backlog of cases which is fast growing”.
While admitting that courts are struggling to clear a large number of pending cases, he added, “We need not take these arrears as barriers”.
He said all sorts of cases are coming in courts because people have become more aware of their rights and instead of approaching the executive, they are taking path of judiciary to get their grievances redressed.
“So don’t be afraid of backlogs,” he said while emphasising the need for adopting technology to reduce the pendency.
He said institutions are the bloodline of a democracy which include the elected legislatures, functional executives, vigilant judiciary, free press and specialised bodies like Election Commission, NHRC, CAG.
“Democratic systems consist of networks of interwoven and mutually reinforcing relationships between key institutional spheres. Even a partial failure of one organ will hamper the whole mechanism of governance since the potential of these institutions primarily lies in their interactions and interdependence on each other.
“Democracy is such a form of governance where no one is superior to another and more importantly one cannot exist without another,” he said.
“The framers of our Constitution have intentionally instituted the idea of check and balance system so that we need no outsider to judge us rather our own institutions will govern each other.”
He said every time, there may seem to be a difference of opinion but it needn’t necessarily be a conflict but an intimidation for improvement.
Only when the interaction among the institutions is healthy can the country occupy a prominent position in the world politics. “We should cultivate and foster such interactions among the democratic institutions if we envision to be a predominate power in the world politics in the near future,” he said.
Maintaining an independent judiciary is essential to the attainment of the judiciary’s rule of law governance objective and the proper performance of its functions in a free society.
Judicial independence ensures that powerful independence must conform to the law.
“With an independent judiciary, no one is above the law and no one is below the law. Without it, there is a little hope for the rule of law. Thus, the need for judicial independence is not for judges or the judiciary per se but for the people,” he said.