As Centre continues to criticise the system of appointing judges, resolutions by CJI Chandrachud-led Collegium send across a message that the system values competence, integrity, diversity and inclusivity
Four Supreme Court Collegium resolutions backing online free speech,dignity based on sexual orientation and integrity in judicial appointments deliver an extraordinary display of transparency, but at the government’s cost.
The resolutions counter an aggressive pitch by the government against the Collegium system. The Centre has blamed the Collegium of secrecy, lack of proper assessment of character, delay in the appointments process and turning its back on quality and diversity on the Bench.
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The Collegium led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, through these resolutions, portray a government which keeps judicial appointments hanging while being prickly about individual sexual preference, political leanings and online opinions of candidates. In one instance, the government found a candidate unsuitable for sharing an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The resolutions give the public a taste of the government’s priorities. The judges also send across a message that the Collegium values competence, integrity, diversity and inclusivity in the appointments’ process. This is when Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar has criticised the Supreme Court for scrapping the National Judicial Appointments Commission while Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has sought to modify the Collegium system through a revision of the Memorandum of Procedure.
The resolutions cover the proposed appointments of advocates John Sathyan, Saurabh Kirpal, Somasekhar Sundaresan, Amitesh Banerjee and Sakya Sen.
The government is uncomfortable with Mr. Kirpal’s openness about his sexual orientation and his partner’s Swiss nationality. An April 2021 letter from the Law Minister wonders if the lawyer’s “passionate attachment” to gay rights would make him vulnerable to “bias and prejudice” as a Delhi High Court judge. The Collegium has in turn reminded the government of the need for intellect and diversity on the Bench.
The Collegium has said Mr. Sathyan’s choice of articles he shared online did not “impinge” on his suitability to be a Madras High Court judge. Like with Mr. Kirpal, the Collegium highlighted the need for inclusivity as Mr. Sathyan belonged to the Christian community.
The Collegium has upheld the right to free speech of every citizen in its reiteration of advocate Somasekhar Sundaresan as Bombay High Court judge. The Centre had found the lawyer “highly opinionated” and “selectively critical” of the government on social media. The Collegium is also seen reassuring the government that Mr. Sathyan and Mr. Sundaresan have no “political leanings”.
The government’s habit of repeatedly sending back Collegium files despite reiteration was highlighted in the case of Mr. Banerjee and Mr. Sen. Their resolution tracks the to-and-fro shuttling of their files in the past four years.
But vacancies and pendency continue to mount, especially in the four major High Courts in question, as the battle rages on.
The total cases pending in Bombay High Court currently is 6,10,019. Last month alone 18,029 cases were filed. The Calcutta High Court has a pendency of 2,07,368 cases with 6,205 filed in December 2022 alone. Delhi High Court is dealing with a load of 1,05,941 cases and 4,012 new disputes were filed last month. Madras High Court is burdened with 5,50,743 cases. December alone saw an in-flow of 25,280 fresh cases.
As on January 2, Bombay High Court has 29 judicial vacancies. Its sanctioned strength is 94. Calcutta High Court has 18 vacancies. Its sanctioned judicial strength is 72. Madras and Delhi High Courts have 22 and 15 vacancies respectively. The full judicial strength is 60 for Delhi and 75 for Madras. The total vacancies of 339 take up almost a quarter of the sanctioned judicial strength of 1,108 across 25 High Courts in the country.