Need ‘Glastnost’ in appointments in SC, HC: Par Panel

At a time government and Supreme Court is engaged in a tussle over judges’ appointment, a Parliamentary panel has called for “Glastnost” in the selection of top judicial officers.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice emphasised that neither executive nor judiciary have primacy in the appointments as it is a “shared responsibility”.

However, the report ‘Inordinate Delay in Filling Up the Vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts’ by the panel headed by senior Congress MP Anand Sharma also found fault with government’s plans to decline Collegium’s recommendations on the ground of “national security” and “larger public interests”, saying it is tantamount to giving veto power to the executive.

Arguing for bringing more transparency in the appointment process, the panel has said details like eligibility criteria, method of selection and other details should be made public.

The reasons for rejection of a particular candidate by the collegium are not disclosed now and the panel wants that the grounds for not selecting him should be conveyed to the person, it said adding the government also rejects Collegium’s recommendations without giving reasons.

Emphasising that such practices are against the principles of natural justice and leads to “opaqueness”, the report said, “the Committee feels that ‘Glasnost’ in process of appointment of Judges is the need of hour.” ‘Glastnost’ was a policy initiated by the then USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 which stood for more open consultative government and wider dissemination of information.

“Concerned” at the present stand-off over the finalisation of Memorandum of Procedure that is leading to “delay” in filling the vacancies, the committee said it expects a quick resolution in larger public interest. It wanted the appointment of judges to continue through the existing practice as an ad-hoc measure till the MoP is finalised.

As on November 1, there are 461 vacancies of Supreme Court and High Court judges. Four High Courts are working under acting chief justices. The sanctioned strength of Supreme Court and High Court judges is 1,079 while there are only 618 judges in office now.

Another recommendation was in the increase in the retirement in age of judges in higher judiciary. The panel is for increasing the super annuation age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 67 and that of High Court judges from 62 to 65 years.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 8, 2016)

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