Lawyers’ protests over the reported transfer of two Gujarat and Telangana High Courts’ judges may have brought the judiciary and the government closer on the need to protect the sanctity of Supreme Court Collegium decisions.
Saturday saw Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, an ardent critic of the Collegium system, worry about the outcome if such protests “recur” against future Collegium decisions too.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud spoke of the choice between taking “tough decisions” or making it easy for oneself by saying “I’ll have a nice time until the Constitution tells me to retire”.
Mr. Rijiju has cautioned lawyers against the risk of getting “too loud” on their demands. The Law Minister referred to “norms practised for a long time” and “well-established conventions”. The Collegium system of judicial appointments and transfers was evolved through a Supreme Court judgment in 1993.
“I heard some lawyers want to meet the Chief Justice of India on some transfer issue… In isolation, it may be one of the issues… but if this becomes a recurring instance for every decision taken by the Collegium or which is supported by the government, then where will it lead to… then the whole dimension will change,” Mr. Rijiju said at a function to felicitate the Chief Justice.
Only a few days ago, the Law Minister was reported to have said at a media conclave that “when we have a system that is not transparent, it reflects the thoughts of the lawyers and judges”.
‘Out of my mind’
But, on Saturday, the Minister admitted that “maybe I failed to convey what should be conveyed… sometimes I also feel I speak out certain things just out of my mind” and “change” cannot come all of a sudden.
Mr. Rijiju’s statements about the transfers and the ensuing protests on Saturday came before even the Chandrachud Collegium had published its resolution on the proposed transfers on the Supreme Court website. The Supreme Court has been publishing the Collegium resolutions since 2017 to usher in transparency.
It is also not known whether the Chandrachud Collegium has forwarded the reported recommendations of the transfers to the Union government. The Collegium meeting was held on November 16. It was the first Collegium meeting since Chief Justice Chandrachud took over as top judge.
The information about the transfers first came out only on select social media handles and media outlets. On Saturday, the CJI and the Law Minister neither confirmed nor denied the reported transfer recommendations.
In his turn, the CJI had focussed on the disruptive aspect of the lawyers’ protests. “When lawyers strike, who suffers? Consumers of justice for whom we exist suffer… not judges, not the lawyers. Possibly, the lawyers because after a few days their fees start drying up”.
The lawyers’ protests and the statements from the CJI and the Law Minister during the weekend come at a time when there are already seven judicial vacancies in the Supreme Court. Nine more Supreme Court judges are scheduled to retire in 2023. The government has been sitting on the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Bombay High Court Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta to the Supreme Court for several weeks. There is also no information from the Collegium about the 10 names considered for Supreme Court judgeships in September.