Lok Sabha passes Bill to replace Collegium system of appointing judges

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the landmark National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, that seeks to replace the collegium system of judges choosing judges.

Last Updated: Aug 14, 2014, 00:25 AM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the landmark National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, that seeks to replace the collegium system of judges choosing judges.

The bill was passed with a voice vote after the government agreed to a Congress demand to drop a controversial provision that required unanimity in recommendation if President seeks reconsideration.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad moved an official amendment to drop the provision that required unanimity in the Commission`s recommendation if President had referred the earlier recommendation back to the collegium for reconsideration.

The official amendment, moved by Prasad, said that if the President returns the recommendation of the Commission, the panel will not have to return the recommendation for reconsideration "unanimously". If the recommendation is returned to President without a unanimous recommendation, the candidate will have to be appointed.

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the the Constitutional amendment bill and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014 to scrap the collegium system of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges.

Along with NJAC bill, the 99th Constitution Amendment Bill, which seeks to confer Constitutional status to the proposed Commission, was passed by 367 in favour and none against.

Later in the evening, the Constitution Amendment Bill to facilitate setting up of the National Judicial Commission for appointment of judges was introduced in Rajya Sabha as well.

Also Read: Judges appointment: Constitution Amendment Bill moved in Rajya Sabha

Since the government lacks majority in the Upper House, the Congress is expected to create hurdles there and demand amendments in the present bill.

The Narendra Modi government, which is keen to scrap the existing collegium system, had on Monday introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha to establish a six-member body for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

Under the statute amendment bill, Chief Justice of India will head the NJAC. Besides the CJI, the judiciary would be represented by two senior judges of the Supreme Court. Two eminent personalities and the Law Minister will be the other members of the proposed body.

While two members of the NJAC can veto any appointment, the government can return the recommendation for "reconsideration". Under the now-dropped provisions once the NJAC "unanimously" reiterated the recommendation, the government had no option but to accept it.

On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha had a long debate on the bill with Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad saying that the government favours independence of judiciary but the "sanctity" and "supremacy" of Parliament is equally important as it reflects aspirations of the people.

He said the Modi government has "no intentions" to interfere in the power and authority of the judiciary and was only acting to have a "fair procedure" to appoint judges to higher judiciary.

Prasad`s response came a day after Chief Justice of India RM Lodha strongly defended on Monday the collegium system of appointment of judges and said that there was a concerted campaign to defame the judiciary.

"Everyone is out to condemn the collegium system terming it as a failure," the CJI said, adding, "don`t shake the confidence of people in judiciary."
While the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014 seeks to put the proposed commission and its entire composition in the Constitution, the other legislation lays down the procedure to be followed by the proposed body for appointment of Supreme Court judges and transfer and appointment of chief justices and other judges of the high courts.

To allay fears of the judiciary, the composition of the commission has been given a constitutional status to ensure that any future government does not tweak the composition through an ordinary legislation. While the constitutional amendment bill requires two-third majority, an ordinary bill requires a simple majority.

The two eminent personalities on the Commission will be selected by a collegium of Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha or the leader of the single-largest opposition party in the Lower House.

One of the eminent persons will be nominated from among the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, minorities or women. The term of the two eminent persons will be for a period of three years with a provisio that they cannot be renominated.

The provision of having the leader of the single-largest opposition party has been made as there is confusion over Congress getting leader of the opposition post in Lok Sabha.

The bill states that the NJAC will seek views of the governor and chief minister of the concerned state in writing before appointing or transferring a judge of that high court. The bill makes it clear that the proposed body will recommend for appointment the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of India. But the judge under consideration will not attend the meeting in which his or her name is recommended.

After any Constitution Amendment Bill gets Parliamentary nod, it is sent to all the states and 50 percent of the state legislatures have to ratify it. The process could take up to eight months. After ratification, the government sends it to the President for his approval.

The practice of judges appointing judges started after 1993, replacing the system of government picking judges for higher judiciary comprising the Supreme Court and high courts.

An earlier effort by the NDA-1 government in 2003 to replace the collegium system met with no success. The then NDA government had introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill but Lok Sabha was dissolved when it was before a Standing Committee. The UPA-II had also brought a similar bill but without success.

(With PTI inputs)