Supreme Court Collegium: Names of those members who supported and opposed CJI U.U. Lalit’s request for written opinions disclosed

In a resolution uploaded on the Supreme Court’s website, the Collegium divulges that the two dissenting Judges, Justices Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Abdul Nazeer did not disclose any views against any of the ten shortlisted names for the four vacancies in the Supreme Court, and when reminded of this by CJI Lalit, they did not choose to respond.

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THE Supreme Court Collegium has unanimously decided that no further deliberations will be held with regard to the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court till the new Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) takes over with effect from November 9. The decision comes on the heels of Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju’s letter to the CJI Uday Umesh Lalit seeking the name of his successor, a month ahead of the latter’s retirement on November 8.

The Collegium resolution signed by CJI Lalit and Justices Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, S. Abdul Nazeer and K.M. Joseph reveals that Justices Dr. Chandrachud and Nazeer had objected to the process of selection and appointment of judges by circulation.

On September 26, a formal meeting of the Collegium was held in which a total of eleven judges were considered for elevation to the Supreme Court. This resolution does not indicate the names of those eleven judges. It further adds that since there was unanimity of opinion on the name of Justice Dipankar Dutta, Chief Justice, Bombay High Court, his name was approved by the Collegium, while deferring the meeting till September 30 for considering the names of the remaining ten judges. The resolution notes that the meeting was deferred in view of the demand by some of the members of the Collegium that they should have more judgments of the other candidates for perusal.

The resolution notes that the procedure of circulating the judgments of the prospective candidates and making an objective assessment of their relative merit was introduced for the first time in the meeting held on September 26, and Justice Dutta was the first judge to be chosen under this new procedure.

On September 30, the scheduled meeting at 4:30 p.m. could not take place since Justice Dr. Chandrachud, who is slated to succeed CJI Lalit next month, did not attend the meeting. Although the resolution does not indicate the reasons for his not attending the meeting, it is on record that he could not do so because he could complete the hearing of the matters listed before him that day only after 9 p.m.

Also read: As the CJI U.U. Lalit-led Supreme Court Collegium goes into a limbo, he upheld the law by seeking written opinion from its members

Faced with this situation, CJI Lalit sent a proposal on September 30 to the Collegium judges by way of circulation, seeking their views/comments on the names for consideration as the judges of the Supreme Court. The resolution, however, is silent on whether CJI Lalit’s September 30 letter to the Collegium members sought their views on the remaining ten names which were shortlisted earlier, or the five names, which the media speculated, as having been proposed by the CJI. As per media reports, not refuted by the Collegium, the names recommended by CJI Lalit to the four other members of the Collegium, were Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Ravi Shankar Jha, Patna High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Karol, Manipur High Court Chief Justice P.V. Sanjay Kumar, and senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan.

The CJI’s proposal found favour with Justices Kaul and Joseph, who, through their letters dated October 1 and October 7 respectively, communicated the same to the CJI. However, Justices Dr. Chandrachud and Nazeer, in their letters dated October 1, objected to the circulation way of appointment of judges. However, their letters did not disclose any views against any of these candidates. Accordingly, the CJI sent a fresh letter on October 2 seeking reasons and/or alternative suggestions. But this letter received no response from Justices Dr. Chandrachud and Nazeer.

The Collegium resolution adds that “the matter was, therefore, ideally suited to have a discussion across the table amongst the Judges forming the Collegium”.

However, with the Law Minister seeking the name of the successor of CJI Lalit on October 7, the Collegium judges decided that no further steps needed to be taken and the unfinished work in the meeting called for on September 30 was closed without there being any further deliberation, and the meeting dated September 30 stood “discharged”.