Centre blocks recommendations by SC Collegium for appointment of 2 judges as a breach of ‘seniority’

The Supreme Court Collegium has received another blow as the Centre has asked to block the recommendations regarding the appointment of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph as a judge of the Supreme Court and Justice Surya Kant of Punjab and Haryana High Court as Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court. The Union Government has cited these two recommendations as a breach to the appointment criteria of “seniority”.

The Centre pointed out that Justice K M Joseph was “too junior” and his appointment to the Supreme Court would breach two apex court judgments of the 1990s, through which the judiciary took over the executive’s constitutional power to select and appoint judges in consultation with the CJI.

According to a report by the Times of India the collegium’s recommendation breached the SC’s two judgments, which were categoric that “an HC judge has the legitimate expectation to be considered for appointment to the Supreme Court in his turn according to his seniority”. A bench headed by Justice K M Joseph had embarrassed the NDA government by quashing its decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand in April 2016.

On 10th January, the SC Collegium had recommended two names for appointment as Apex Court Judges in which the name of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph was suggested. However, it was only on January 22 that CJI Dipak Misra formally forwarded the recommendation of the Collegium to the Union law ministry. The collegium comprised of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi.

On 1st March the collegiums yet again made public the names it had recommended for appointment as chief justices of 10 high courts wherein Justice Surya Kant had been recommended by the collegiums for elevation as chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court. He was the senior puisne Judge from Punjab & Haryana High Court and was serving in that High Court since his elevation on 9th January, 2004.

The Collegium in this regard while making the recommendation had added, “It is deemed necessary to add here that while making the above recommendation, we have also considered the name of Mr. Justice A.K. Mittal, who hails from the same High Court as does Mr. Justice Surya Kant. Though Mr. Justice A.K. Mittal is senior to Mr. Justice Surya Kant in the seniority of Judges of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, having regard to all relevant factors and since we consider Mr. Justice Surya Kant more suitable than Mr. Justice A.K. Mittal, we are not recommending name of the latter, for the present, for appointment as Chief Justice.”

Thus the Centre has put a block to the implementation of these twin recommendations as being opposed to the ‘seniority criteria’.

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