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What they (reportedly) said yesterday: Most top lawyers agreed to scrap collegium, Upendra Baxi cautious

Yesterday’s high-powered law ministry meeting with a who’s who of the legal profession, reportedly resulted in a consensus from most present about the need to abolish the existing collegium system of judicial appointments, with the government now producing a draft.

The three hour meeting, according to The Hindu, would now result in the government drafting a new version of the previous government’s Judicial Accountability Commission (JAC) Bill.

The former government’s draft provided for three Supreme Court judges on the JAC, including the CJI, alongside the law minister and two “eminent citizens” selected by the CJI, prime minister and the Lok Sabha’s leader of the opposition.

The government

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said:

The predominant view at the meeting was that the collegium system has failed and it needs to be changed.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Times of India and others:

the government respects the independence of the judiciary and there is no question of going back to the pre-1993 position where executive had the primacy in appointment of judges

Consensus?

Presumably due to confidentiality restrictions imposed on participants, none of the media reports quoted anyone other than the law minister and law officers by name but apparently most other were united. An unnamed “top source” told TOI:

There was a consensus that the collegium system of appointing judges to high courts and SC needs improvement and that the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) as an instrument must be considered to replace the existing system

And a participant said, according to TOI:

Location of power is not important, it is important to have people who are good, intellectually, in terms of integrity and more importantly can bring repute to the system

Upendra Baxi, one of two legal academics at the meeting alongside Madhava Menon, was the lone somewhat critical voice, according to TOI and DNA. TOI reported:

Former Delhi University vice-chancellor Upendra Baxi was more cautious in his opinion. He said there has been no empirical evidence to prove that whatever system has been in place has either failed or worked well.

Meanwhile, Fali Nariman and Soli Sorabjee reportedly said at the meeting, according to DNA, that there shouldn’t be any tinkering with the basic structure of the Constitution.

The judges

No one managed to get a comment from any of the judges present, but DNA cited one participant’s account that:

even former chief justices, who headed the collegiums during their tenure, were of the opinion that the system has failed to deliver and it should be substituted with a commission comprising majority of the Supreme Court judges.

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