Outgoing Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan on Tuesday brushed aside the suggestion that transparency in the collegium’s decision would have helped in avoiding recent controversies relating to appointment of judges for the Supreme Court.
“Not at all,” the CJI said adding the present system of appointment of judges will continue until a better system comes into place.
“This (collegium system of appointment of judges) is based on the decision of the Supreme Court and until the Supreme Court decision is modified, we have to go by that,” he said in an interaction with legal correspondents on the last day of his office.
Justice Balakrishnan, who has consistently maintained that the office of CJI should be kept out of the purview of RTI Act, disagreed with the view that he wanted immunity from ambit of the transparency law.
The CJI, whose three-and-a-half-year tenure, witnessed some controversies including that on the proposed elevation of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, was of the opinion that the procedure for appointment of SC judges could be reviewed for a better alternative.
“It could be reviewed if the country needs the better system (on appointment of judges for higher judiciary). If Parliament thinks so, there can be a better system. There is nothing wrong in reviewing it. We need not stuck up,” he said.
However, he refused to be drawn into controversies relating to Justice Dinakaran, whose elevation to the apex court was dropped, saying Parliament has already started impeachment proceeding against him.
“I don’t want to talk about Justice Dinakaran. There is an impeachment proceeding pending. The matter is looked after by a separate committee and the Vice-President has appointed a committee”, he said.
The CJI said the thinking process is there to deal with the errant judges and government is in the process of bringing Judicial Accountability Bill which is before the select committee of Parliament.
He was responding to a question whether there was a need for some mechanism to deal with erring judges, particularly in the light of aspersions cast on some judges.
“That is why the government is thinking about bringing the Judicial Accountabilty Bill that has been sent to select committee or some expert body. All thinking process is there,” the CJI said.
He said “halfway” mechanism is often criticised. “Judges are not like ordinary govt. servants. If integrity of a judge is doubtful, we cannot censure him or warn him or suspend him. It should be the end of his career. So, that is why halfway methods are not suitable for judiciary.”
Asked if he was against impeachment, Justice Balakrishnan said “no no, I am not against it. Ultimately, impeachment is decided by Parliament. It is members of Parliament who decide.
That is why it is criticised in England also. It is ultimately a political decision. I am not against it.”
Justice Balakrishnan disagreed with the view that he wanted immunity from ambit of the transparency law.
“I never wanted any immunity from the RTI. I give so much information. So many information Supreme Court has given. Somebody has said that the Supreme Court has given the highest number of answers to the RTI questions. We don’t have any petty matter at all,” he said adding he did not favour any amendment in the transparency law.
Maintaining that the whole issue was for protection of independence of judiciary, he said the problem was there on a limited issue relating to the reputation and dignity of the office.
“Only in a very very small area we have got problem. That is regarding information of CJI for some details that is normally cannot be divulged as it will affect the reputation and dignity of office of somebody else or the independence of the judiciary — that is we are trying to protect. We are bound to protect the interests of the others and also to protect independence of judiciary,” he said.
He said that otherwise the Supreme Court was giving all information under the RTI Act and it would be misleading to suggest that it was averse to divulging information
“We are giving all information,” he said.
Speaking on a wide range of issues, the CJI said there was no serious cause of concern for him during his tenure and there was no unhappy situation and any serious mistake in particular.
He refuses to comment on the issue of reservation in judiciary saying his expressing an opinion will have some effect in future.
“I don’t want to express any opinion. The issue of reservation comes to the court in some form or the other. My expressing an opinion will have some effect in future”, he said.
Asked about the setting up of special courts for prosecuting terror-related case like Mumbai attack, Justice Balakrishnan said he had written a letter to the Prime Minister for creating 600 CBI courts across the country.
He said the matter was looked after by the Law Ministry and state governments also have to find out how to set up such designated courts.
When his attention was drawn to recent incidents of honour killings and Khap Panchayat demanding amendments in law, the CJI described such incidents as social issues.
“Such cases might come before the court... There are certain prohibited relationship in Hindu Marriage Act. You are youngsters. It is not law that prompts one to get into love relationswhip. Once we are in love, obviously they don’t mind personal law. So law amended or not... these are social issues and opinions vary from people to people”, he said.
Asked to speak on the delay in cases involving influential persons, the CJI said it is only in some cases the trial takes longer time.
“There are some cases in which longer time takes due to influence by accused or undue interference by counsel by way of interlocutory application. Otherwise, ordinary cases do not take long time for disposal”, he said.