Independent judiciary is ensured by the college system: Chief Justice of India

Independent judiciary is ensured by the college system: Chief Justice of India

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said on Saturday that the collegium system uses a set of clearly defined criteria to pick judges, adding that the process of judicial appointments must be totally transparent to increase public trust in the work of the judiciary.

"Although there is no ideal system, this is the best we have created. The CJI emphasized that merit is the primary consideration, followed by seniority and the need for broad representation from all regions and high courts, while taking into consideration inclusion of gender, marginalized communities, and minorities. "It (collegium) was devised for the simple reason that independence of judiciary is a cardinal value and the judiciary needs to be insulated from outside influences for it to be truly independent," the CJI said.

The CJI made reference to the procedure followed in which the collegium reviews the decisions given by the candidate judge to be raised to the Supreme Court and stated, "First, we look at merit to evaluate the professional ability of a judge. Also, the judges of the supreme court often deal with the decisions of high courts, which aids in forming judgements regarding a judge's qualifications.

Since providing justice is a service, seniority is the second factor, according to the CJI. The CJI said, "There is also a broader sense of inclusion that we follow with regard to gender, marginalized communities – persons of SC/ST who need to have an equal opportunity to aspire for higher judicial office, and to bring more minorities into the judiciary, but all this without compromising on merit.

When it comes to the last criteria, the CJI stated: "We strive to ensure that, to the degree practicable, we offer sufficient representation to each and every high court, various states, and regions in the nation."

Due to the high court collegium's initial decision to nominate individuals to high courts, there are enough checks and balances throughout the whole process. Before the case is brought before the Supreme Court, there is equal engagement of various parties, according to CJI Chandrachud. At the Supreme Court level, the Center provides inputs in the form of an Intelligence Bureau report, after which the Prime Minister's Office and subsequently the President gets recommendations for appointments.

The collegium decided to release these inputs about senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal in January to address criticism that the process lacks transparency, the CJI said, in response to criticism from law minister Kiren Rijiju about the collegium making public the inputs given by the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau on a judge.

"The current collegium wanted to address the complaint that we lack openness, which is why we posted the information on the internet. It was a sincere idea that making our procedures more public would increase people' trust in the job we undertake, he added.

The collegium reaffirmed Kirpal's nomination despite intelligence assessments objecting to his openly homosexual sexual orientation and the fact that his partner was a Swiss citizen working for the Swiss embassy. Rijiju had argued against the collegium making the private intelligence reports on Kirpal public.

The CJI said that the collegium released information that was already in the public domain without taking issue with the law minister and asserting that he is entitled to his opinion. "All that was described in the IB report was available to the public. The contested candidate is honest about his sexual preference. We were not allowing access to IB's information sources when the IB noticed it.

"What we stated was that the sexual orientation of a candidate has nothing to do with the capacity or the constitutional eligibility of the applicant to take the office of a judge," CJI Chandrachud added.

Regarding the lengthy summer and winter recesses enjoyed by Supreme Court justices, the CJI stated that the top court's judges hold hearings for 200 days (roughly six and a half months) annually, as opposed to the US Supreme Court's 80 days, the Australian Supreme Court's less than 100 days, the UK's 145 days, and Singapore's 145 days.

Every Supreme Court judge works seven days a week, without exception, he said. The CJI said, "What people don't realize is that much of the time on vacation is spent on drafting judgements which you have put in reserve because you simply haven't had time throughout the week when you are working seven days straight just to be ahead of the curve to deal with your cases.