Supreme Court collegium defers decision on Justice KM Joseph's elevation

Randy Kelley
May 3, 2018

Justice K M Joseph, who had headed the bench that had quashed the Narendra Modi government's decision to impose President's rule in the Congress-ruled hill state in 2016, was not considered to be elevated as a Supreme Court judge by the Centre.

In the meeting which concluded a few minutes back, the Collegium which also comprises Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph chose to defer the same. The Centre cleared Mahotra but sent back Justice K M Joseph's case to the collegium for reconsideration citing three issues - lack of "seniority", "Kerala HC already having adequate representation in SC" and "non-appointment of judges belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities".

Four of the five collegium members were also for the first time informed on Wednesday of a letter written by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to the CJI on April 30 wherein he reiterated the government position that the principle of seniority must be followed in the elevation of judges to the top court.

"Deferred", said a collegium resolution uploaded on the Supreme Court website.

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.

Many backers of the Uttarakhand Chief Justice have alleged that he is being penalised for his verdict striking down the dismissal of the Congress government in the state previous year and are keen on his early elevation since the Centre will have no choice but to acquiesce to any reiteration by the collegium.

"I wish to deny with all authority at my command". Prasad noted that a Bharatiya Janata Party government was elected with a three-fourths majority past year. "Secondly, that order was confirmed by Justice (J.S.) Khehar of the Supreme Court", the minister said in response to a media query.

The government had on 26 April declined to accept the recommendation of the collegium and asked it to reconsider his name. They unanimously said that returning the recommendation of Justice Joseph was an attack on the independence of judiciary.

This is because clubbing these two in a single resolution could given the Centre the option of perpetually sitting on Joseph's appointment while asking the President to issue warrants to others who are recommended by the collegium. "There was no question of anyone agreeing or disagreeing on any particular name as no names were discusssed", said a senior source.

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