He said the “soft culture” of constitutional statesmanship was needed to strike harmony between the SC and the Centre for the selection of the right candidates as judges.
At the Law Day function organised by the SC Bar Association and against the backdrop of law minister Kiren Rijiju’s recent remarks on opaqueness of the judges-selecting-judges system, CJI Chandrachud said, “We as judges are here but for the purpose of ensuring that the soft culture, that sense of constitutional statesmanship between the government and the SC continues to be in harmony to find the right balance in the selection of judges.”
He said it would be a futile exercise if the SC and the Centre engaged in finding fault with each other. “We cannot be constitutional statesmen if we are only at a point where we are only finding faults with each other. We understand that we have a system, and a Constitution, and we need to work our way as constitutional statesmen to find just conclusion. I am sure, with the assistance of distinguished colleagues in the collegium who have great experience of handling difficult situations, we can handle every situation with great harmony and social resolution.”
The CJI said this in the presence of Justice S K Kaul, who headed the bench which on November 11 had made caustic observations against the government for sitting over the names approved by the collegium for appointment as judges of the HCs and SC. The collegium’s September 26 recommendation for the appointment of Bombay HC CJ Dipankar Datta is yet to receive approval from the government.
SCBA president Vikas Singh said as of now the “imperfect” collegium, which needed reforms, is in place by the judgments of the SC and that is the law of the land. By not honouring its recommendation, the government was violating the rule of law, he said, adding the collegium judges have failed in their duty to find good lawyers and appoint them as judges of constitutional courts. Law minister Kiren Rijiju did not touch on the sensitive issue in his brief address.
But the CJI responded to the “collegium failed in its duty” charge of Singh, who has the reputation of often being blunt in speaking his mind to the judges while arguing cases. Justice Chandrachud said, “We have to make judicial officer careers appealing to young lawyers by the way we conduct ourselves as judges and lawyers. If young lawyers see senior members of the bar screaming at judges, they would think – do I want to be there to be screamed at? But if he sees judges are given respect by all segments of the establishment, that will make judgeship more appealing to them.”
He said, “No institution in a constitutional democracy is perfect… All the judges of the collegium, including me, are faithful soldiers who implement the Constitution. When we talk of imperfections, our solution is to work our way within the existing system. Because we as judges are entrusted with a system which we have to abide by and follow.”
“Getting good lawyers to enter the judiciary is just not about reforming the collegium,” he said. It is not about the salary and perks the judges get, which is a fraction of what a successful lawyer earns in a day, he said. “People become judges for a different reason, for a sense of commitment to public service. There are some doctors who join private corporate hospitals. There are others who spend their lives for AIIMS, for government hospitals to serve the poor. So, becoming a judge is a call of conscience,” the CJI said.