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New CJI favours wider dialogue to select judges

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New Delhi, April 27 :

New Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha Sunday said in the appointment of judges he favoured much wider consultations involving judges outside the collegium and senior members of the bar of the respective high courts.

Speaking to the media after taking oath, the CJI said he was writing to chief justices of high courts to involve three more senior most judges outside the collegium and three senior most lawyers of impeccable integrity in the process.

Justice RM Lodha, CJI
Justice RM Lodha, CJI

He also addressed questions on judicial over-reach, judicial interference in policy matters, appointment of judges under the proposed Judicial Accountability Bill, and the allegations of sexual harassment against retired judges.

“Everything that is not good for the society is not good for the judiciary. It (sexual misconduct) surely dents its image as it is expected to be perfect in its conduct,” he said.

Chief Justice Lodha said his first priority is the appointment of judges. “Appoint good judges and rest will follow… If you have good judges, then in a matter of six to seven years you will have an entirely new image of judiciary.”

He said he would be writing to the chief justices of high courts Sunday itself or by Monday.

His priority also stems from the fact that 2014 sees 10 apex court judges retiring, and of these three – his predecessor P.Sathasivam, Justice H.L. Gokhale and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra – have already done so.

The CJI said that wider consultation was beyond the criteria of knowledge of law, social behaviour and legal acumen as required under the law ministry memorandum and all the three judges of the collegium should be asked to give an independent opinion about a recommended judge.

However, he noted that the procedure of wider consultation may not work for smaller high courts which have just three judges, like in Sikkim.

On judicial overreach, Chief Justice Lodha said that courts actually refrain from touching the policy issues, and it is only in one or two matters where policies are in breach of constitutional provisions that they intervene. There would be no friction if all three organs of the state operated within their limits, he said.

On the government getting a say in the appointment of judges through the proposed Judges Accountability Bill, he said: “Whatever the government is doing is their job. When the law is framed, then we will see whether it is in conformity with the constitutional mandate.”

Defending the collegium system, he said there is “no another suitable system for the selection and appointment of judges”.

He once again reiterated his opposition to fixed tenure for the CJI and defended the existing practice of the senior-most judge succeeding to the post.

“This is an institution which works on discipline. If next person does not get (to become CJI), then it affects his legitimate expectations.”

“The average tenure of the judges in the Supreme Court is four years or even less than that. The next seven CJIs will have an average tenure of less than 15 months each,” he said.

On the contentious issue of children of judges practicing in the same courts where their parents are dispensing justice, he blamed the bar associations.

“What can a judge do? If my son and daughter do not adhere to the code of conduct? The role which the bar is required to play is not being played by it and judges are blamed.”

Asked about the adverse impact of court interference in nursery admissions in Delhi which is now before the apex court, he said: “It is for the master (presiding judge) to think about the importance and significance of the matter (before him) and the impact of its (order) on children and their parents.”

He welcomed the criticism of judgments but said that “does not mean that I reconsider it or re-open it”.

(IANS)