Over a year and 10 months after a Constitution Bench placed its faith in the government to iron out the dos and don’ts of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court and the high courts, the Centre is yet to deliver. Now, the court wants to know why.
A bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit issued a notice to the Attorney-General of India, the Centre’s top law officer, to explain why the finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts continues to “linger”.
The Supreme Court also wants Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to address it on the delay in appointment of “regular” Chief Justices to various high courts.
The apex court underlined that the “arrangement” of Acting Chief Justices in high courts should not continue for more than a month.
Six of the 24 high courts have been without regular Chief Justices for months.
In the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court, Justice Ramesh Ranganathan has been Acting Chief Justice since July 30, 2016. Earlier this month, Justice H.G. Ramesh was appointed Acting Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, taking the tally of high courts with Acting Chief Justices to seven.
The Bench posted the hearing for November 14 while appointing senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan as amicus curiae. It recorded in a written order that it has been about two years since a five-judge Constitution Bench, in December 2015, tasked the Centre with the drafting and finalisation of the MoP.
The decision to give the job to the government was an aftermath of the same Constitution Bench’s historic decision, in October 2015, to strike down the government’s National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) law. The NJAC law had given politicians an equal say in judicial appointments to constitutional courts. Justice Goel was one of the five judges on the Constitution Bench.
The hearing before Justice Goel’s Bench was on the basis of a petition filed by advocate R.P. Luthra, which besides questioning the delay in the finalisation of MoP, also raised the issue of delay in the appointment of regular Chief Justices in high courts despite the recommendation of the Supreme Court.