Inclusion of the Union Law Minister as a member of the collegium for appointment of judges would not affect the independence of judiciary, a former Law Minister has said.
The former Minister and noted lawyer Shanti Bhushan was among several speakers at a discussion on appointments to the higher and subordinate judiciary, who stressed the need for greater transparency in the judicial system with some suggesting bringing the judiciary under purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“I personally see no harm. Even if you introduce a law minister into a team of five supreme Court judges, what can the minister do? He won’t be able to influence the views of five senior supreme court judges. I don’t think this will affect the independence of the judiciary,” Bhushan said.
Bhushan, who was the Law Minister in the Morarji Desai government, also said that “no important role can be left to the government because it consists of politicians. It is impossible to expect politicians of the kind we had in 1950s or 60s. Ultimately, it is the judiciary which will have to shoulder the various responsiblities.”
He also alleged there was corruption among subordinate judiciary saying a former President of district Bar Association in Delhi had told him about it. “So, what kind of justice can we expect,” he asked.
At the debate organised by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, Dr Mohan Gopal, former Director of the National Judicial Academy and of NLSIU, opined that judiciary lacked confidence in the committment of the political executive to the principles of independece of judiciary.
“NJAC judgement does not reflect a genuine disagreement between the executive or the judiciary. Rather it reflects a well founded lack of confidence in the judiciary in the committment of the political executive to the principles of independence of judiciary.
“I think, the judiciary feels that the political leadership of this country is not committed to the idea of judicial independence and there is a reluctance to handover the significant power to the political executive in the appointment of judges,” Gopal said.
He also claimed how the “typical Indian judge is Hindu, upper class, upper-caste and male” and said “we need an appointment process which will change and democratise this to include judges from minorities, lower castes, economically deprived backgrounds etc.”
CPI(M) leader Nilotpal Basu also echoed the need for transperancy in the judiciary.
“Unless we have transparency, we can’t have credibility,” he said urging for inclusiveness in the decision-making process in judicial appointments.
He also claimed there was an influence of “mob justice” in some recent judgments, saying “certain death sentences served these days give a clear impression that the mob which was agitating outside the court have influenced the decision.”
Senior advocate Anil Divan stressed the importance of having an independent secretariat with complete control on the functioning of the appointments process.
Maja Daruwala, the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said the figure of 30 million cases pending before the judiciary was unconscionable and only worsened due to the judiciary-executive tussle.
Journalist and author Manoj Mitta pointed to the stand of Justice A P Shah against former CJI K G Balakrishnan, stressed the need for bringing judiciary under purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying “for the consumers of justice, the struggle over primacy between the executive and judiciary is not as important as that of transparency”.
Paul Divakar, General Secretary of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, spoke about “disproportionate incarceration” of SC/ST communities by the judiciary.
“There are cases in which judgements punishing perpetrators of caste atrocities were reversed. … There is reluctance of judicial and police officers to recognise such atrocities as crimes,” he said, while recommending that issues relating to diversity, social justice and fairness be included in the curricula of the National Judicial Academy itself.