Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New Delhi: The government's insistence on a "detailed scrutiny" of the professional records of advocates and judicial officers being considered for high court judgeships has added to its continuing standoff with the judiciary over judges' appointments.

A senior government functionary acknowledged that the Supreme Court collegium had questioned the need for such a scrutiny. But he added that the law ministry continued to send the collegium a summary of the candidates' professional record, even numerically grading the judicial officers (lower-court judges).

According to procedure, a three-member high court collegium recommends candidates for high court judgeships to the five-member apex court collegium, and sends along a summary of the nominee's performance record.

Since last July, the government has been insisting on sending its own report on the candidates too.

"In the case of advocates, (the) reported judgments (in cases they represented), and in case of judicial officers their case disposal time and number of adjournments are being evaluated by an in-house team having legal background," the law ministry informed the cabinet secretary in July.

But the apex court collegium recently questioned the government's move while approving the elevation of a woman judicial officer to Madras High Court as an additional judge.

"As regards the comments regarding her professional competence, it is for the judiciary to assess her performance. Professional competence cannot be adjudged on the basis of unconfirmed/unsubstantiated inputs," the collegium noted.

The senior government functionary asserted the collegium had said "nothing explicitly to the government about the scrutiny, but the noting on the collegium recommendation makes it clear that they have not taken to the move kindly".

The clash of views comes at a time the government and the judiciary are deadlocked over proposed changes to the memorandum of procedure guiding the appointments and transfers of high court and apex court judges.

The apex court had offered to amend the memorandum as a compromise after a five-judge bench in October 2015 struck down a law that had given the government a say in judges' appointments.

Since then, the collegium has rejected the government's demand for the right to reject a nominee on the ground of national security. It has also opposed the demand for a secretariat to vet and clear the candidates before the collegium takes them up.

A peeved Centre has been sitting on the bulk of the apex court collegium's recommendations, causing huge judges' vacancies.

According to the government functionary, the government had last July pressed for a review of the process of judges' appointments, citing the contempt verdict against the former Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan. Two of the seven judges had advised a review of the process of selecting and appointing judges. PTI

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