SC Collegium equally liable for delay in judge appointments: AG

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that its Collegium is equally responsible for the delay in the appointment of judges, noting that the government completes the process of clearing a recommendation in an average of 127 days whereas the Collegium takes an average of 119 days.

The response from the Centre came when it was questioned on the delay in the appointment of the judges. It recommended, in order to fine-tune the exercise of clearing names, the top court introspect and clear the hurdles within the judiciary causing this delay.

Arguing before a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph, Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal contended why should the Centre be blamed for the inordinate delay against the backdrop of High Courts consuming nearly five years in sending names for the appointments.

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“Why question the government for this 100 odd days in vetting a name… High courts across the country have not even recommended the names for appointment of judges for 199 out of 396 vacancies. Let the High Courts reform themselves first,” he said.

The AG pointed out that the Bombay, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh High Courts have taken more than five years to recommend names for appointments to high courts.

In the previous hearing on the matter, the court had asked Venugopal to make pictorial representation, through a chart, on the timeline on the judicial appointments in high courts and the Supreme Court. The AG explained the court through the chat that various authorities under the Centre took 127 days to clear the name of a judge, and this includes the report from the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

As the court questioned the AG on the length of the time consumed in this IB report, he said: “The number of days taken by the government after receiving inputs from the IB is 127 days. Whereas, the Collegium takes 119 days.”

He also explained the court the process involved in verifying the IB report, if it were to be adverse on the name of the recommended judge.

The AG, in his arguments, cited the statistics deciphering the overall vacancies in the High Courts and also identified the list of names of judges pending before the central authorities. Justice Joseph insisted that once the names have cleared by the Collegium, then the government is bound to process these appointments into effect.

The AG contested this observation, stating that the government has a duty to see the process of appointing judges. He cited the “rate of rejection” of names by the Collegium was around 35 per cent.

At this, the court observed: “It seems the Collegium of high courts and the Supreme Court do not appear to be on the same page.”

The bench also queried the AG as to what are hurdles which obstruct the government from bringing a new law on this delay in the appointment of judges. The AG replied if this were to be the case, then the government could introduce another amendment, if this suggestion were to come from the court.

Venugopal said the apex court could issue notices to all 25 High Courts and seek their response on the delay. The court replied that it could only work towards making this system smooth, as nearly 40 per cent of chairs in the high courts are presently vacant.

At the end of the hearing, the top court sought response from the Registrar Generals of all high courts in connection with the vacancies and the tentative timeline on the process of sending recommendations.

The bench is hearing a transfer petition, originating from Odisha, where lawyers were on strike in many districts seeking circuit benches of the high court in other parts of the state.

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