Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on Sunday defended the collegium system, saying that the notion of “judges appointing judges” was a widely propagated myth, reported Bar and Bench.

He made the statement while delivering a lecture on the topic “Indian Judiciary – Challenges of future” at a law college in Andhra Pradesh’s Vijayawada city.

Currently, the Supreme Court collegium, which comprises the chief justice of India and senior members of the judiciary, recommends names for elevation of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts. These recommendations are sent to the executive branch of the government, which then takes these appointments forward. While both the judiciary and the executive branches are involved in the judges’ appointments, the judiciary is given priority.

Ramana on Sunday said it was not just the judiciary that scrutinised suitable candidates for the judges’ posts, but the executive, the law ministry and state governments were also involved in the appointments.

“I am sad to note that the well-informed [persons] also propagate the aforesaid notion [that judges are appointing judges],” said Ramana. “After all, this narrative suits certain sections.”

Earlier this month, Kerala MP John Brittas had said that “judges appointing judges” was unheard of, reported PTI. He had made the comment during a debate on the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill in Parliament. The Bill sought to bring clarity on the date of eligibility of a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge to receive an additional quantum of pension.

Meanwhile, Ramana lauded the Centre’s efforts to appoint several judges in the recent past but also pointed out that the law ministry was yet to transmit some of the recommendations made by the High Courts.

The sanctioned strength of judges in 25 High Courts across the country is 1,098. Of these, 402 posts have been vacant as of December 1. Currently, eight out of the 25 High Courts do not have a regular chief justice.

Ramana lamented the high number of vacancies in High Courts and said the process must be accelerated. “My desire is to witness a near-zero vacancy,” Ramana added. “Another issue is the alarming number of vacancies in various tribunals.”

On October 2, Ramana had said that since May, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended 115 names to be appointed as High Court judges and chief justices. Until then, the Centre had cleared only eight names.

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On judges’ safety

The chief justice said that the law enforcing agencies should effectively deal with the “malicious attacks” on judges. He pointed out that the authorities do not proceed with the investigation unless ordered by the court.

“The governments are expected and duty bound to create a secure environment so that the judges and judicial officers can function fearlessly,” he added.

In August, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to take steps to protect judges and ensure the safety of courts. The court had said that the matter of judges’ safety should not be left to the states alone.

The bench of Chief Justice Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose gave these directions while hearing a suo motu case in connection with the death of a judge in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad city.

The judge, Uttam Anand, was allegedly murdered in a hit-and-run incident on July 28 while he was jogging in the morning.

On public prosecutors

Ramana said public prosecutors in the country have been historically under the control of the government.

“Hence it is not a surprise that they do not act independently,” he said. “They do nothing to prevent frivolous and non-deserving cases from reaching the courts. Public Prosecutors automatically oppose bail applications without independently applying their minds. They attempt to suppress evidence during [the] trial which could benefit the accused.”

He suggested that an independent selection committee could be formed to appoint public prosecutors. “Best practices should be adopted after a comparative analysis of other jurisdictions,” Ramana added.