Supreme Court Collegium defers decision on Kurian Joseph

Supreme Court Collegium defers decision on Kurian Joseph

In a move that will avoid an immediate confrontation with the Centre, the Supreme Court Collegium on Wednesday deferred its decision to reconsider the name of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph for elevation as a judge of the apex court.

Judicial sources said the five-member collegium was keen on iterating the name of Justice Joseph as available facts and figures suggested that he was the "most meritorious" among the names considered.

The Centre, through a letter sent to the chief justice by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, said many High Courts did not have any representation in the Supreme Court.

A new crèche was inaugurated in the Supreme Court on Wednesday (May 2). The statement did not specify the next date of meeting, which is likely to be held next week.

In addition to Justice Joseph's name, the Collegium also considered names of Judges from Calcutta, Rajasthan, and Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Courts for elevation as Judges of the Supreme Court, in keeping with the Centre's assertion to have fair representation of all regions in the top court.

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After sitting over the collegium's recommendations for over three months, the Central government on April 26 cleared the name of senior lawyer Indu Malhotra (now judge) but returned the recommendation of Justice Joseph for reconsideration.

The names of Justice Indira Banerjee who hails from Calcutta High Court and is now the chief justice of Madras High Court, and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, now the Karnataka High Court chief justice, are doing the rounds. Prasad noted that a Bharatiya Janata Party government was elected with a three-fourths majority a year ago. "Secondly, that order was confirmed by Justice (J.S.) Khehar of the Supreme Court", Prasad said in response to a media query.

The members of the collegium including Justices Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph had expressed concern over the delay of the government in clearing the name of the Uttarakhand Chief Justice as the apex court judge. The decision to block elevation of Justice Joseph looks political.

Indu was sworn in as the judge of the Supreme Court on April 27. One of the reasons cited was that his parent High Court of Kerala already had a representation in Justice Kurian Joseph, while many high courts had no representation in the Supreme Court.

The run-up to the meeting of the collegium saw a group of senior advocates, activist lawyers, and retired judges, including a former CJI, building up pressure for immediate reiteration of the recommendation for Justice K M Joseph. With the Supreme Court facing a large number of vacancies, making it hard for the CJI to constitute adequate number of benches to deal with over 50,000 pending cases, the agenda circulated among the judges appeared to recognise the need for expeditious filling up of seven vacancies in the SC, which would with the retirement of Justice R K Agrawal on Friday increase to eight, by mentioning about fair representation to HCs which have not a single or less than adequate representation in the apex court at present.

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