Justice (retd.) AK Sikri
Justice (retd.) AK Sikri

Collegium system needs reconsideration: Justice (retd.) AK Sikri

The judge was speaking at the launch of the book "The Cases India Forgot" by Chintan Chandrachud.

Bar & Bench

An event conducted on Saturday for the book launch of Chintan Chandrachud’sThe cases that India forgot” saw Justice (retd.) AK Sikri expressing reservations about the Collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary.

Apart from Justice (retd.) Sikri, the event also saw the participation of Justice DY Chandrachud and AZB & Partners Managing Partner Zia Mody and Madhavi Divan. Journalist Shekhar Gupta moderated the discussion.

Responding to a question posed on the same by Gupta, Justice DY Chandrachud focused more on how the Collegium system may be improved.

Justice (retd.) Sikri remarked that Justice Chandrachud was right in proceeding on the presumption that the Collegium system is constitutional, being a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. In lighter vein, he proceeded to comment,

But I am not a sitting judge any longer. I can say that it [the Collegium system] needs reconsideration.
Justice (retd.) AK Sikri

In this regard, he observed,

“At the end of the day, let me be very frank … most of the time, we go by our impressions. It may not be a scientific study made about a candidate…Therefore, many times - those may be aberrations - those who are taken [as judges] may not be deserving and many times, those who are deserving are left out. So that needs to be taken care of.”

Justice Chandrachud, on the other hand, observed that there are areas in which the Collegium system may be improved. One area that requires to be addressed is diversity, he said.

Another area for reform, Justice Chandrachud said, was transparency in selection. In this regard, he observed,

It is important that our Collegium lays down, for wider society, the standards which we apply in the selection of judges… Laying down transparent norms on the basis of which we will assess individuals for higher judicial office would be one very important step which we can take towards making the collegium system of appointment more transparent.

On whether judges should be appointed on short-term basis

During the course of discussion, Shekhar Gupta also broached the topic of whether it is viable to appoint academics as judges on a short term basis.

Justice Chandrachud observed that while the Constitution does allow for the same, it has not appointed such judges in the past. That being said, he also opined that is time to think outside the box, and consider the possibility of engaging experienced lawyers as judges for limited terms. He said,

We look upon judgeship as a sort of a career choice - a lifetime choice. I think we need to think outside the box. Why cant we bring into the judiciary people who will come in for shorter periods? You are doing that now for government - you have lateral entry into the government at very senior levels. Why do you have to believe when you recruit a judge at the age of 25, that person will continue all the way to 62 or 65? Why don’t we think of bringing lawyers, instance, on short term appointments to the High Courts for five years?”

Senior lawyer Zia Mody agreed with the suggestion, opining that there are people who are willing to be so appointed. She also recounted that the proposal was mooted a few years back. However, it was not implemented, possibly because of apprehensions of conflicts arising if lawyers are appointed as judges.

Justice (retd.) Sikri also agreed that the proposal is a good idea. As regards the possible conflict of interest cited, Justice Sikri pointed out that lawyers may be appointed as judges in courts outside locations of area of their practice.

On the cases that will be remembered in the future and changing judicial perspectives

The speakers were also prompted to speak on the cases that will likely be remembered in the future. Justice Chandrachud opined,

“The cases that we will be really thinking of are the cases of the outliers. I think it’s important that we focus on the cases which said, ‘there is a different perspective on the problem which you are addressing.’”

Justice DY Chandrachud

He went on to observe how judges who appreciate the need to view things differently ought to be valued, particularly given that India embodies a multitude of cultures and a pluralities of views.

As the discussion drew to a close, the guests also spoke of how judicial perspectives may change over time. Justice (retd.) Sikri observed that the tendency for the same has always been there. Further, he observed that how a case is decided may also depend on which Bench hears it.

Zia Mody spoke of how there are unconscious biases that should be remedied over time. She said,

What I would be looking at the Supreme Court to do is to take every available opportunity to look at gender biases and to use their jurisprudence to re-shape thinking. I think if we still look at what we have today, there is an unconscious bias. How do we really change that is something I would look forward to in the next ten years.

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