Collegium comes under attack by Law Minister

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday attacked the collegium system saying this judge was chosen through this procedure.

PTI| Updated: May 05, 2017, 21:49 PM IST

New Delhi: In an apparent reference to the recent incident in which the Supreme Court ordered medical examination of a sitting judge, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday attacked the collegium system saying this judge was chosen through this procedure.

"A gentleman is in the news for all wrong reasons. I understand that his medical examination is ordered as directed by the apex court. He was also a part of the collegium system," Prasad said while making indirect reference to Justice Karnan who was asked by the apex court to undergo medical examination.

Prasad said even before the collegium system came into force, the executive played an important part in the selection process of judges and asked why the Prime Minister cannot be trusted in the appointment of a judge.

Prasad, who said he was not expressing his opinion as a Law minister, was however of the view that by denying the role of government in selection of judges, the judiciary has shown lack of trust in the executive,which was a very serious issue.

"The Prime Minister performs all important functions along with his ministers. He even holds the nuclear button. If the country can trust him with the nuclear button, there was no reason why he cannot be trusted to appoint a judge," the law minister said while speaking at a function organised by the Bar Council of India (BCI) here.

The minister, who said he was expressing his view as a student of Indian constitutional law, said it was a very serious issue if the mere presence of the law minister in the appointment panel, gave rise to apprehension and lack of fairness.

His remarks assume significance as a five-judge constitution bench had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act by declaring it "unconstitutional" with an observation that there was need to overcome the shortcomings of the collegium system which consists of five senior-most judges of the apex court including the Chief Justice of India.

Prasad pointed out that for 43 years, before the collegium system which came in 1993, the law minister was part of the judicial appointments in the country.

"For 43 years, the Law Minister was an important part of judicial appointments. Finest of judges came from that period. Justices Vivian Bose, Hidayatullah, Venkatachaliah, Krishna Iyer, J S Verma and all. The most outstanding judges of India came by the same old process.

"The Allahabad high court judge who ruled against the then sitting Prime Minister of India at that time was also selected through the old process," Prasad said while posing a question whether the collegium has given any judges of that calibre.

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Misra, who also spoke on the occasion, expressed gratitude to the government and the Law Minister for deferring the suggestions of the Law Commission of India on the Advocates Act.

"The autonomy of the Bar was at stake. The Bar is really grateful to the Centre and in particular to the Law minister who immediately read the mood of the bar and came to help us by taking decision and announcing that the law panel's recommendations will be implemented only after consulting BCI and other lawyers' bodies," he said.
The BCI chairman also said the bar favours the government on the issue of transparency in judicial appointments.

"The bar is strongly in favour of the government in the issue that there should be transparency in the appointment of judges and judges should also be accountable to the public. Judiciary is confined to limited families of the country," he added.

Prasad, who was felicitated by the BCI for taking necessary steps in favour of the lawyers, batted for reforms in the profession without any interference from the government.

"Please improve the disciplinary mechanism. I want to make it very clear that government should not have any role in it. The government must stay away. Your regulatory body, the Bar Council and associations must formulate the proper, credible and assuring mechanism in the event of any misconduct," he said.

He also added that it is the responsibility of the BCI to improve the legal education in the country.

Prasad said there was a need to improve the system of legal adjudication as the "world is looking towards India".

"Our growth percentage is talked the world over. The world is looking towards India. The Indian system of legal adjudication has to be improved proportionally. Therefore the quality of legal education has to improved in the country. Law practise must also recognise the change in mood in the country," he added.