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'Make criteria for judicial positions in public domain'

Make criteria for judicial positions in public domain

New Delhi: As the five-judge Constitution bench on Wednesday agreed to bring the Chief Justice of India under the ambit of Right To Information Act (RTI), one of the judges Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud pitched for making criteria for appointments in public domain as it will fulfil the purpose of the Right To Information Act.

Justice Chandrachud in a separate concurring judgement said the collegium is a victim of its own birth pangs. He also opined that there is a vital public interest in disclosing the basis on which those with judicial experience are evaluated for elevation to higher judicial office, particularly having regard to merit, integrity and judicial performance.

"Placing the criteria followed in making judicial appointments in public domain will fulfil the purpose and mandate of Section 4 of the Right To Information At (RTI) Act, engender public confidence in the process and provide a safeguard against extraneous considerations entering into the process," Justice Chandrachud said.

"The collegium owes its birth to judicial interpretation. In significant respects, the collegium is a victim of its own birth pangs. Bereft of information pertaining to both the criteria governing the selection and appointment of judges to the higher judiciary and the application of those criteria in individual cases, citizens have engaged the constitutional right to information, facilitated by the RTI Act."

The judge also said: "If the content of the right and the enforcement of the statute are to possess a meaningful dimension in their application to the judiciary -- as it must -- certain steps are necessary. Foremost among them is that the basis for the selection and appointment of judges to the higher judiciary must be defined and placed in the public realm."

The judge in its order also emphasised that there is need for substantive standards, which must be formulated and placed in the public realm as a measure that would promote confidence in the appointments process.

"Due publicity to the norms which have been formulated and are applied would foster a degree of transparency and promote accountability in decision-making at all levels within the judiciary and the government. The norms may also spell out the criteria followed for assessing the judges of the district judiciary for higher judicial office," the judge said.

Asserting that knowledge is a powerful instrument which secures consistency in application and generates the confidence that is essential to the sanctity of the process of judicial appointments, the judge said that "this is essential because the collegium system postulates that proposals for the appointment of judges are initiated by the judges themselves".

The judge also highlighted the essential substantial norms in regard to judicial appointments, which include the performance of a member of the Bar and criteria such as experience as reflected in the quantum and nature of the practice, domain specialization in areas which are geared to the evolving nature of litigation and the requirements of each court.

The five-judge bench unanimously said that transparency and openness in judicial appointments juxtaposed with confidentiality of deliberations remain one of the most delicate and complex areas.

The top court ruled that names of the judges considered by the collegium would be made public, but details such as reasons for them being recommended would not be disclosed, stressing that "in a constitutional democracy, judges cannot be above law" and "transparency does not undermine judicial independence."



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