Precise time frame for Judicial Appointments not possible, Govt responds to Shashi Tharoor

Precise time frame for Judicial Appointments not possible, Govt responds to Shashi Tharoor

Meera Emmanuel

The Union Ministry of Law and Justice yesterday published its response to queries posed by Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor concerning judicial appointments.

As per the response statement issued by the Law Ministry, Tharoor’s queries were posed under four heads. The first two concerned the actual number of pending recommendations for appointments to the Higher Judiciary i.e.

  • Supreme Court Collegium recommendations pending before the government since May 2014
  • Collegium recommendations sent back by the government to the Supreme Court Collegium for reconsideration; recommendations reiterated by the Collegium after they were sent back by the government for reconsideration

The latter two queries were more policy-oriented, and dealt with whether there were any reforms planned to expedite the process of judicial appointments.

  • Whether the Government was taking any steps to dispose of pending recommendations in a time-bound manner? If no steps were taken towards such time-bound disposal, what are the reasons for it?
  • Whether the Government is considering any change in the Collegium System on appointment of judges in the higher courts of the country?

In their statement, the Ministry of Law and Justice disclosed the following figures as regards judicial appointments made from 2016 till date.

Position on Appointments in Supreme Court & High Courts

Judges appointed in the Supreme Court040504
Appointment of Chief Justices of High Courts140815
Judges appointed in the High Courts12611536
Additional Judges made Permanent in High Courts1313170

As regards pending Collegium recommendations, the government responded with the following details.

  • 143 names recommended by the High Court Collegium have been submitted and pending with the Supreme Court Collegium.
  • 5 names recommended by Supreme Court Collegium have been referred back by the government to Supreme Court for reconsideration
  • 27 proposals including those names reiterated by Supreme Court Collegium are under various stages of processing with the government, as per the procedure prescribed in the MoP.

In their response to the policy-oriented questions, the government has informed that it cannot chalk out a time-bound procedure for filling up vacancies.

Filling up of vacancies in the High Courts is a continuous and collaborative process of the Judiciary and Executive involving various Constitutional Authorities.

Hence, the precise time frame for filling up the post of Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts cannot be indicated.

The government’s statement is silent on whether any concrete reforms are being considered to improve the process of judicial appointments.

In this regard, there is only a brief mention that it is likely to take some time to finalise the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for judicial appointments, which was directed by the Supreme Court in 2015 in the NJAC case.

As the process of finalizing the supplementation of the existing Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) was likely to take some time, at the initiative of the Government, the matter of continuing the appointment process was taken up with Supreme Court, and appointments of Judges in the Supreme Court and the High Courts are being made in accordance with the existing MoP.

As regards the final question on whether the Government is considering bringing any changes to the Collegium system of judicial appointments, it now appears that Tharoor never posed the query, to begin with.

Speaking to the Quint, Tharoor confirmed that he had not made the said query. As per the report, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has also confirmed that the query was not made by Tharoor, but rather by another MP, Ramachandran Mullapally.

Both sets of questions were allegedly clubbed together at one point, but later separated to answer Tharoor’s queries in more detail. However, accidentally, Mullapally’s question was not deleted from Tharoor’s list of queries.

Regardless, as pointed out by the Quint, the bulk of the Law Ministry’s response has to do with detailing the history of the Collegium system and the NJAC case, presumably in answer to Mullapally’s query.

With the government making it clear that it will not impose timelines by which judicial appointments should be processed, the onus to do so now falls on the Supreme Court. A petition filed by the Madras Bar Association calling for strict timelines to be implemented at every stage of the process of judicial appointments is pending before the Court.

Clarification: This article has been updated in light of a statement made by Shashi Tharoor to the Quint. As per the Quint article, Tharoor has denied having made the query regarding proposed changes in the Collegium system of appointments, contrary to what has been published in the Law Ministry’s response statement.

Shashi Tharoor’s office has also confirmed the same with Bar & Bench over email. The Quint article can be accessed here.   

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