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Open letter pleads CJI to scrap ‘damaging’, ‘undeserving’, incompetent nominees to Madras HC bench

A group of 46 lawyers and civil society activists have asked Chennai’s and the country’s most senior judges to withdraw a list of names recommended for elevation to the Madras high court (HC), because it would lead to “undeserving persons of questionable competence, experience and integrity get appointed and contribute to judicial delays, aberrations and poor quality judgments”.

The letter, dated 23 July, follows the Madras High Court Advocates Association having petitioned the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to reject 15 proposed judges’ names from elevation around 27 June.

The latest letter states about the “raging controversy” about the list of names: “We understand that allegations abound about candidates being chosen based on criteria far removed from demonstrated or proven caliber, knowledge, expertise and integrity. Instead they are being chosen based on divisive considerations and intense, unhealthy lobbying.”

“We understand that Intelligence Bureau has adversely reported on some names, while some, who have consented to be judges have withdrawn. This could give an opportunity for a relook at the list […]

“We also urge you to openly lay down the criteria for selection. We hope to see candidates who can demonstrate (a) a high level of expertise in their chosen areas of practice, (b) ability to quickly absorb and analyse information, (c) appropriate knowledge of the law and its underlying principles or the ability to acquire this knowledge where necessary.

“We also hope the chosen candidates will have (a) integrity and independence of mind, (b) sound judgement, (c) decisiveness, (d) objectivity, (e) ability and willingness to learn and develop professionally and (f) ability to work constructively with others, (g) ability to treat everyone with respect and sensitivity whatever their background and (h) willingness to listen with patience and courtesy, (i) ability to inspire respect and confidence (j) ability to maintain authority when challenged, (k) ability to work with speed and under pressure, and (l) the ability to organize time effectively and produce clear, reasoned judgements expeditiously.

It is necessary that the process of short-listing be made public so that members of the public and members of the Bar may participate in the process and provide information about the candidates and her/his abilities; this will ensure that ultimately only the best and the brightest are selected.

The task of appointing the right persons to man our higher judiciary is not one to be compromised in any way. It has to be done with utmost diligence and care for it is the job of the judges to continuously interpret our Constitution and the actions of the governments and public agencies in the light of the constitutional spirit.

The 121st law Commission Report of 1987 had recommended the substitution of arbitrary, individual preferences with defined objective criteria.

These 15 vacancies, if filled up now with the wrong persons, will cause damage to the legal system and administration of justice for several years. We therefore request you to kindly withdraw the controversial list and go through a fresh transparent and participatory process to ensure that Madras High Court gets men and women of competence and integrity as its judges.

The letter was signed by retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam, and 45 others including other current and former senior bureaucrats, law professors, as well as advocates Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Datar, Pranav Sachdeva, V Suresh, Elizabeth Seshadri, Karthik Seshadri, V Raghavachari, NGR Prasad and Prof Pradip Prabhu. It was addressed to the Supreme Court and Madras HC collegium, the law minister and president of India.

Click here for PDF copy of letter

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