Conversation with Justice K T Thomas National Human Rights Commission to be more a paper tiger than a tiger
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Conversation with Justice K T Thomas National Human Rights Commission to be more a paper tiger than a tiger

Bar & Bench

Our Associate Editor, Raghul Sudheesh spoke to former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice K. T. Thomas on diverse range of topics including his thoughts on former CJI K. G. Balakrishnan, the Collegium System, NLSIU, Justice Bhagwati’s confession and All India Bar Exam.

Our Associate Editor, Raghul Sudheesh spoke to former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice K. T. Thomas on diverse range of topics including his thoughts on former CJI K. G. Balakrishnan, the Collegium System, NLSIU, Justice Bhagwati’s confession and All India Bar Exam.

Justice K. T. Thomas was a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India. Justice Thomas was directly recruited from the Bar as a District Judge and eight years later he was elevated as a Judge of the Kerala High Court. In 1996 he was elevated to the Supreme Court and served six year tenure before retiring in 2002. Since his retirement Justice Thomas has been appointed as the Chairman of various Committees including Police Reforms Monitoring Committee constituted by the Supreme Court and Committee for fees fixation in Unaided Professional Colleges in Kerala, which was constituted by the Government of Kerala pursuant to Apex Court direction. The report of the latter committee had led to drastic educational reforms in Kerala. Justice Thomas was also offered post of a member at National Human Rights Commission but he had declined to take up that offer. Recently he was appointed by the Chief Justice of India as Chairman of the Statutory Review Commission to review the functioning of National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

Raghul: Can you speak to us about the initial years of your career?

K. T. Thomas: There was no such prompt to take up law. After graduating my initial thinking was to pursue M.A; so that I could become a lecturer. While pursuing my degree course I was the Chairman of the College Union at St. Albert’s college, Cochin and some people advised me that since I was involved in politics, law will be a better choice. I was one of the founders of Youth Congress in India and I still have the photograph with Nehru in those days. So I decided to pursue a law degree and choose the prestigious Madras Law College. I was selected as District Judge directly from the bar. This was after 17 years of practise.

Raghul: Any difficulties you faced as a Judge?

K. T. Thomas: I never had any difficulties as I was determined to decide according to law and my conscience.  Not even once I had any difficulty in my 25 years of Judgeship.

Raghul:  Do you subscribe to view that death sentence is Judicial Murder?

K.T. Thomas: Yes, I do. Other murders are committed without the protection of law but this is committed with the protection of law. That is why I call it judicial murder.

Raghul: Do you think collegium is the proper way to appoint judges?

K. T. Thomas:  At the time when collegium was formed according to the Supreme Court decision, that was a considered to be better machinery than which existed earlier where the executive had a prominent role. Now in retrospect I feel that this system is bad.

Raghul: Should we remove the collegium system and go for a judicial commission, considering there is no transparency for proceedings of collegium?

K.T. Thomas: I do not have much hope that the National Judicial Commission as proposed will be a remedy. I will say that the present collegium of five judges should be expanded to the entire judges of Supreme Court for selecting judges.  Transparency is not advisable because if you are going to be transparent, nobody can be selected.

Raghul: Should judiciary be kept away from Right to Information Act and should assets of judges made me public?

K. T. Thomas:  Judiciary should be kept within the purview of the Act.  I feel assets should be made public and whoever wants to inspect the data must be given the same.

Raghul: Do you think it was proper to impeach Justice Soumitra Sen for something which he did in his capacity as a receiver?

K. T. Thomas: He did not return the money even after becoming a judge. Therefore he has committed misconduct.

Raghul: You were the Chairman of the Statutory Review Commission which was mandated to review the 24-year old National Law School of India University. Your views on the institution?

K. T. Thomas:  My thoughts on this issue are set out in the report of the Statuory Review Commission. If one compares the time when we conducted our review of the institution and the initial years of Dr. N. R. Madhava Menon, I think there is an evident fall in many respects and we suggested many measures in our report to improve the standards.

Raghul: Recently in one of the interviews Justice P. N. Bhagwati confessed, “ADM Jabalpur was a mistake.” Your thoughts on this? When the judge says his judgment was wrong, is a confession enough?

K. T. Thomas: I disagree with his confession. When the judge passes a judgment, if he discovers a fact later, then he can confess. He can say that the fact escaped my notice. But to say that I passed a judgment wrongly after 35 years without coming across any new fact, I do not approve of that and I will not do that.  I will do it only if it is something that did not come to my notice at the time when I passed the judgment.

Raghul: Has Public Interest Litigation turned to Publicity Interest Litigation?

K. T. Thomas: Evolution of Public Interest Litigation has contributed a lot to the growth and improvement of legal system and expansion of constitutional vistas. Like any other system will have demerits, Public Interest Litigation system also has exhibited its demerits. I am of the view it must continue despite the demerits.

Raghul: Can you speak to us about K. G. Balakrishnan. In the light of allegations against him, should he resign?

K. T. Thomas:  At the time when Balakrishnan was my colleague his integrity was never doubted. Probably I am one of the persons with whom Balakrishnan was colleague for the longest period. After retirement, allegations of amassing huge wealth are being heard. During my time I never heard anything. I expressed my opinion to him that had I been in his position, I would step down. I cannot continue with so much of allegations pending against me.

Raghul: Was Justice Cyriac Jospeh’s elevation to the Supreme Court pressed by you?

K.T. Thomas: It is not correct to say so. Only a reference was made to me by then Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan before the elevation, if I have heard anything about his integrity. I had said that I had never heard anything against his integrity. Except that I had no role in his elevation.

Raghul: Why did you decline the post at National Human Rights Commission?

K. T. Thomas: It was for vacancy to be filled up by a former Supreme Court Judge. I was offered this post. For five years I could have taken up all the privileges of a Supreme Court Judge including foreign trips. But, I perceived National Human Rights Commission to be more a paper tiger than a power exercisable today. Without powers it is not worthy to spend time there hence I conveyed to the President my disinclination to accept the post.

Raghul:  Your take on the All India Bar Exam?

K. T. Thomas: I became a lawyer after passing an examination. I worked as an apprentice for one year and in the course of which I had to pass an exam to enter the Bar. The examination system was stopped later due to the efforts of some politicians. I am glad that the Bar exam is restored.

(Image: The Hindu)

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