Former CJI Lalit defends Collegium system: ‘Perfect as it stands now’

“It was the conclusion of the five judges that the collegium system is the ideal one and that is the system we need to follow,” Lalit, who retired on Nov. 8, told reporters at his residence. “I think it’s perfect the way it looks now,” he said.

Apparently referring to the attempts to bring in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the former CJI said, “Attempting to have a different modality turned out to be incorrect. In fact, the court went so far as to say that such an attempt, even a constitutional amendment, would be a violation of the basic structure.”

Referring to the critical remarks made by Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju about the collegium system, Judge Lalit said “that is his personal opinion”. He said: “The Collegium system is a decision of five Supreme Court justices. Collegium therefore works according to the established standard. If you want reforms in the Collegium, then maybe a dialogue is needed.”

Former Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, along with his wife, during a media interaction on Sunday at his residence in New Delhi. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

He said it’s up to the government if they want to bring the NJAC back. “Change must be in accordance with the law. If the government wants to bring NJAC back, that’s their prerogative. They certainly can. If both Houses adopt such a bill, it is also a step in that direction. Until such attempts are made, we will fill the vacancies that arise according to established standards,” said Lalit.

Criticized that the operation of the Collegium system is opaque, he said: “As long as the discussion for the Collegium is ongoing, it can never be transparent. Decisions coming from the Collegium will certainly be transparent. No doubt about that. Suppose we have two vacancies and we collect information about 10 possible candidates, then you see the pros and cons, you see different facets. At that point, it might not be a good idea to be completely transparent.”

Asked about the SC’s comments last week that the government cannot keep the names recommended by the Collegium pending forever, he referred to the case of a Karnataka lawyer whose name was cleared by the Supreme Court College and all agencies, but the Center kept it pending, ultimately requiring the attorney to withdraw his consent.

“Because the decision was not made in time, the system was robbed of one talented individual, whose talent was certified not only by the High Court Collegium, but also by all agencies at all levels. In such a case if you don’t say yes or no and the name sticks, there is a limit to patience and he has left it. So maybe there are such examples in his mind, that’s why the bank said something like having a time limit.”

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