President okays constitutional status for judicial jobs panel

Government has to intimate commission of the vacancies in the SC and the HCs

Updated - April 21, 2016 03:35 am IST

Published - December 31, 2014 04:08 pm IST - New Delhi

The President on Wednesday gave his assent to the setting up of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, which gives the executive an equal role in the appointment of judges to the highest judiciary, as a constitutional body.

Official sources said the President had given his approval to the Constitution (121st Amendment) Bill.

The amendment to make the NJAC a constitutional body for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts was recently ratified by the legislatures of 15 States. A Constitution Amendment Bill needs to be ratified by at least 50 per cent of the Assemblies.

“We had sent the Bill for the President’s assent on Tuesday,” Union Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda told The Hindu on Wednesday, as soon as the authenticated letters from the States were received. Mr. Gowda said a decision on sending the enabling Bill — National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014 — to the President would be taken after discussions with the Prime Minister on Friday. “But we will do it soon,” he said.

The 121st Constitution Amendment Bill stipulates amendments to Articles 124 (2) and 217 (1), which deal with the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, respectively. Under it, every judge in the Supreme Court and the High Courts would now be appointed by the President in consultation with the NJAC. The NJAC would end the Supreme Court collegium’s two-decades-old grip on appointments of judges.

Once the commission is in place, the government has to intimate it, within 30 days, of the vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Vacancies to come up within the next six months should also be intimated to the commission in advance.

The NJAC has the Chief Justice of India as chairperson and two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court as members, apart from the Union Law Minister and two eminent personalities, one of whom would be nominated from among the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, minorities, the Other Backward Classes or women.

However, the 121st Constitutional Amendment Bill and the NJAC Bill have been subjects of litigation in the Supreme Court. In August 2014, shortly after Parliament passed the Bills, four public interest litigation petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, seeking to declare them unconstitutional as they violated the basic structure of the Constitution by infringing on judicial independence. But a Bench, led by Justice A.R. Dave, refused to entertain them, observing that it was too “premature” for the court to intervene as the 121st Constitution Amendment Bill was yet to be ratified by the States. However, the Bench said the parties could move the Supreme Court on the same ground at an appropriate stage.

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