Former Chief Justice UU Lalit on Sunday said that the collegium system of judicial appointments was necessary for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, Live Law reported.

“In my opinion, the collegium system is the best system,” Lalit said at a press conference at his home. “It has proved to have worked effectively.” The former chief justice held a press conference for the first time since his retirement on November 8.

Lalit’s remarks came less than a month after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju described the collegium system of appointing judges as “very opaque”.

On October 18, Rijiju had said that the government was unhappy with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to strike down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act passed by Parliament months after Narendra Modi took over as the prime minister in 2014.

The law had proposed to make judicial appointments through a body comprising of the chief justice, two senior Supreme Court judges, the law minister and two other eminent persons nominated by the chief justice, the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition.

The National Judicial Appointments Commission was to replace the collegium system, under which five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, decide on the appointments and transfers of judges to the top court and the High Courts.

Former Chief Justice of India UU Lalit at his residence. | PTI

On Sunday, Lalit said that it was the government’s prerogative to bring back the National Judicial Appointments Commission if it wanted to do so, but reminded that the body was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“An attempt to have a different modality was not found to be correct,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “In fact, the court went to the extent of saying that such an attempt, even a constitutional amendment, would be a violation of the basic structure.”

On Rijiju’s remarks about the collegium system being “opaque”, Lalit said that the process cannot be fully transparent either.

“Suppose we have two vacancies and we are collecting information about 10 probable candidates, you see the pros and cons, you see various facets,” he said, according to the newspaper. “At that juncture [the process] to be made completely transparent may not be a good idea.”

Post-retirement offers

Meanhwile, in an interview with NDTV, the retired chief justice said while he is not averse to the idea of accepting a government appointment after retirement, he would not accept a Rajya Sabha nomination or a position as governor.

He said that while he believes the positions were “not a demotion”, but they were not befitting for the status of a chief justice either.

“That’s my personal view,” Lalit said. “I’m not suggesting that those persons are in the wrong.”

Ranjan Gogoi, India’s 46th chief justice, had been nominated to the Rajya Sabha after his retirement in 2019 by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

On Sunday, Lalit told NDTV that he would instead be interested in taking up roles in bodies like the National Human Rights Commission chief, Lokpal or the Law Commission.

“What I mean to say is that places like the chairperson of NHRC...Wherever there is a legislation which the Parliament has passed, and the Parliament has prescribed that so-and-so person with requisite experience who was or is the judge of the Supreme Court or former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, we go by the wisdom of the Parliament.”