Here’s why Centre asked the collegium to reconsider Justice KM Joseph’s elevation

After being criticised for refusing to clear Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph’s name for elevation to Supreme Court, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written to CJI Dipak Misra, citing reasons for the refusal and asking the collegium to reconsider Justice KM Joseph’s elevation.

The letter states:

“the proposed appointment of Shri Justice KM Joseph as a judge of the Supreme Court at this stage does not appear to be appropriate.”

Below are the reasons given by the Centre for refusing Justice KM Joseph’s appointment as a Supreme Court judge:

  • In the All India High Court Judges’ Seniority List, Justice KM Joseph is placed at  Number 42 and there are presently 11 Chief Justices of various High Courts who are senior to him.
  • Around 10 High Courts, including the High Courts of Calcutta, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Manipur and Meghalaya, are not represented in the Supreme Court at present.
  • Justice KM Joseph, who’s parent High Court is Kerala High Court, if elevated will be the second judge from a relatively small High Court.
  • There is no representation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe in the Supreme Court.

The letter stated that for the aforementioned reasons, the Government has been constrained to segregate the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium. On the question whether the Government can segregate the recommendations made by the Collegium, the letter clarified:

“such segregation of proposals has been done in many cases earlier, which include appointment of judges to various High Court and also to the Supreme Court in interest of expeditious action on appointments and filling up of vacancies.”

Background of the controversy: 

On 19.01.2018, the Supreme Court collegium, comprising of the five senior-most judges, had recommended the names of Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph and Indu Malhotra for elevation to the Supreme Court. While the Centre cleared Indu Malhotra’s name, it rejected the collegium’s recommendation regarding Justice KM Joseph. Indu Malhotra was sworn in as the 7th woman Supreme Court judge on 27.04.2018 by CJI Dipak Misra. She is the first woman lawyer to be directly appointed as a Supreme Court judge.

While the appointment of Indu Malhotra was applauded, many Senior members of the Bar urged CJI Dipak Misra to block her appointment till Justice KM Joseph’s name is cleared. Supreme Court, however, refused to give an urgent hearing to a mentioning by a group of Supreme Court Bar Association lawyers, with 100 signatures, seeking a stay on Senior Advocate Indu Malhotra’s appointment as Supreme Court judge in light of Centre’s decision to reject Justice KM Joseph’s elevation. The SCBA resolution states:

“While we stand for nomination of Ms. Indu Malhotra, Senior Advocate and one of our distinguished members, we express our deep anguish for non-inclusion of Justice KM Joseph and selective processing of files contrary to the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium. We strongly condemn the selective approach of the Executive and call upon the Hon’ble Supreme Court to take appropriate steps to restore independence of the judiciary. “

(Click here to read the full text of the letter)

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