The Supreme Court has published a statement notifying that in a meeting of the Collegium held on November 24, seven judges have been recommended for transfer. However, the said list includes two out of three judges whom the Collegium had already decided to transfer in a meeting on November 16 as per news reports, and does not include Justice Nikhil S Kariel of the Gujarat High Court, the third judge.

On November, 17, it was widely reported in the media that the Collegium, on November 16, decided to recommend the names of Justice T. Raja of Madras High Court for transfer to the Rajasthan High Court and Justice A. Abhishek Reddy of Telangana High Court to Patna High Court, in addition to the name of Justice Kariel.

It was based on the said news reports that there were protests in the Gujarat and Telangana High Courts against the proposed transfers. In both the said cases, Chief Justice Chandrachud and some other members of the Collegium met the delegation of lawyers from the Gujarat and Telangana High Courts to understand their objection to the transfer.

The meetings confirmed media reports about a collegium decision in the case of Justice Kariel and Justice Reddy, since, if the news reports were false, there was no reason for the Judges to meet the delegations.

Unanswered Questions

  • If the Collegium already decided to transfer Justice A. Abhishek Reddy and Justice T. Raja on November, 16, what was the need to recommend their names once again in a meeting on November 24?
  • If the Collegium has already decided to transfer Justice Nikhil S Kariel in the meeting on November 16, will the non-inclusion of his name in the recommendation of November 24 make any difference?
  • If the decision of the Collegium meeting of November 16 that was widely reported in the media was not final, how did it reach the media?
  • If the decision of the Collegium meeting of November 16 was final, why hasn't a statement been published about the said meeting?

Consultation after Decision

The non-mention of the name of Justice Nikhil S Kariel in the latest statement is being reported as a recall of the Collegium's earlier decision (if there was such a decision) to recommend his name for transfer. This supposedly happened after the interaction between the delegation of lawyers of the Gujarat High Court and Chief Justice Chandrachud and some other Judges of the Collegium.

If that is true, this appears to be a case of consultation with stakeholders after the decision to transfer was already taken. This consultation could have been made before the transfer was recommended. If the Collegium had sound reasons to recommend the transfer of Justice Nikhil S Kariel, it is not known why it has apparently decided not to press the said decision.

After the Gujarat and Telangana High Court bars, the Madras High Court lawyers have come out objecting to the transfer of Justice T. Raja. The Federation of Bar Associations of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry has already written to Chief Justice Chandrachud against the proposed transfer. Even they may resort to boycotting courts and seeking an audience with the Chief Justice to urge for reconsideration of the decision to transfer Justice Raja.

Transparency in Collegium System

On 3 October 2017 the then Collegium comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices J.Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph passed a resolution that henceforth decisions taken by the Collegium indicating the reasons shall be put on the website of the Supreme Court.

On 15 October 2019, the then Collegium comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, Arun Mishra and R.F. Nariman resolved that henceforth its resolutions to be uploaded on the website of the Supreme Court would contain only the names approved by the Collegium and not reasons.

When Justice Chandrachud took charge as the Chief Justice there was an expectation that he will make the Collegium system more transparent. It could have been done by publishing reasons for the decisions, as was done earlier for around two years.

However, the latest decisions, including for elevation of lawyers and judicial officers as Judes and for transfer of judges have been published on the website only in the form of statements.

Recently, a Constitution Bench headed by Justice K. M. Joseph suggested the inclusion of the Chief Justice of India in the consultative process for the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner. The Collegium system is a mechanism that is created and operated by Judges, including the CJI. Judges of the Supreme Court should spare a thought for what has become of it.

Chief Justice Chandrachud has always spoken about the need for transparency in the administration of justice. He should start with the most opaque part of our judicial system, the Collegium.

Also Read - 'Sources' In Supreme Court: How Collegium Discussions And Decisions Are Being Leaked To Media

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]