Impeachment not always the solution: Justice Chelameswar

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NEW DELHI, APR 08,
Impeachment is not the solution to deal with an errant judge, Justice Jasti Chelameswar said on Saturday. He said efforts should be made first to correct the system or put a “proper, alternative” system in place.
The judge, who was delivering a talk on the topic “Role of judiciary in democracy”, agreed with the government’s view that there should be an audit of the judiciary and its collegium system in a democracy.
“No system created by human beings is perfect. There has always been problems, accidents, failures of assessment, mistakes. Always good to audit the system,” Justice Chelameswar said.
Allocation of cases
Asked why Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra continues to hear all the important cases, including the Ayodhya matters, despite publishing a subject-wise roster, Justice Chelameswar replied: “He is the master of roster … If he has the energy to do the entire work, let him do it.”
Justice Chelameswar said the importance of a judge was not dependent on the nature of the case he took. “There is a great way of doing small things and a small way of doing great things,” he said.
“Thwarting the appointment of Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the next Chief Justice of India will only prove what we said in the January 12 press conference is true,” Justice Chelameswar said.
With senior advocates, journalists and law students in attendance at an event organised by the Harvard Club of India, Justice Chelameswar spoke on the controversies that have befallen the Supreme Court in an hour-long public interview with senior journalist Karan Thapar.
The January 12 press conference held by the four senior-most judges Justices Chelameswar, Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph was the first public attack against Chief Justice Misra, accusing the latter of selectively allocating cases to preferred Benches.
Impact on democracy
It is now pivotal that Chief Justice Misra, who retires on October 2, recommends Justice Gogoi’s name for appointment as top judge. Asked if he had apprehensions on this, Justice Chelameswar said: “I hope it [thwarting of Justice Gogoi’s appointment] will not happen. If it happens, whatever we said in the press conference is true.”
Justice Chelameswar questioned Chief Justice Misra’s sudden decision to set up a Constitution Bench merely to countermand his order to have five senior most judges hear the Lucknow medical college scam.
“I believe I was within my powers to pass that order. I still believe so. I was not transgressing the CJI’s powers as master of roster… What was the problem in requiring a reversal of our order… We did not question the CJI’s authority,” he said.

He said the scam allegedly involves a high court judge and threatened to “pollute springs of justice.”

He said the selective allocation of important cases by the CJI using his authority as master of roster impacted democracy. The power of ‘master of roster’ has to be wielded with responsibility. “If the process [of allocation of cases] is not transparent, it leads to suspicion. Suspicion is detrimental to the institution,” he said.

He agreed that the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets appeals was an example of selective allocation of cases.

“The judgment was reserved for a year. What purpose did it serve? The assessment fails there,” Justice Chelameswar said.

Justice Chelameswar described the Supreme Court as a “body of shifting mass”. The judges in the Collegium keep changing. “We hold it in trust for the nation,” he pointed out.

Justice Chelameswar said he did not find the government’s insistence on the power to reject judicial candidates recommended by the Collegium on the grounds of national security an “insurmountable difficulty” to finalising the Memorandum of Procedure. He said, however, the government should give proper grounds to justify its claim that an appointment would be risk to national security.

He called it “unfortunate” that the government chose to bypass the Supreme Court Collegium to ask Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court Dinesh Maheshwari directly to probe a judge recommended twice by the apex court Collegium for High Court judgeship.

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