“Don’t Shoot Off My Shoulder…”: Ex Judge On Law Minister vs Judiciary

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Retired Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi on Monday advised Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju to “not shoot off his shoulder” after being cited in a face-off between the government and judiciary over the system of appointing senior judges.”I thank the Law Minister for raising the issue, but I’m not a political person. Don’t shoot the gun off my shoulder. This is my personal opinion that the collegium system is unconstitutional. There should be a secretariat in High Courts and Supreme Court,” Justice Sodhi told NDTV.”How can it be that some judges get together to appoint judges? How can two or three judges decide together? The collegium system has failed [but] constitutional bodies should avoid public criticism regarding the appointment of judges,” he said.Elaborating where he stood in the debate over the powers of the judiciary, executive and legislature, Justice Sodhi said, “Parliament is supreme in law-making, but the Supreme Court is capable of examining the law.”The comments come a day after Mr Rijiju turned up the pitch of the quarrel, quoting comments by the former judge to underscore which view he considered “sane”.Posting a clip of an interview of Justice Sodhi on Twitter, Mr Rijiju wrote, “Actually, majority of the people have similar sane views. It’s only those people who disregard the provisions of the Constitution and mandate of the people who think that they are above the Constitution of India.””Voice of a judge… Real beauty of Indian Democracy is its success. People rule themselves through their representatives. Elected representatives represent the interests of the people and laws. Our judiciary is independent, and our constitution is supreme,” he said.In the interview with LawStreet Bharat YouTube channel, Justice Sodhi had said, “The Supreme Court has hijacked the constitution for the first time. They said we will appoint [judges] ourselves. The government will have no role in this.””High courts are not subservient to the Supreme Court [but] high court judges start looking at the Supreme Court and become subservient,” he added, explaining why he feels that the system of a panel of Supreme Court judges, called the collegium, appointing judges for the high courts and the Supreme Court does not work.Mr Rijiju’s statement was the latest in a long-running disagreement between the judiciary and the government that has intensified in recent months. From comments by Mr Rijiju to Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, the judiciary has come under increasing pressure to change the system of judges getting the final word on the appointment of judges.The government has called for a bigger role in judges’ appointment, questioned the lack of its veto power, and criticised the encircling of certain principles of the constitution as its “basic structure”, not open to changes by parliament, by the Supreme Court in 1973.Last week, the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of making public its communication with the centre on judges’ elevation after stiff resistance from the government over some appointments, including that of a lawyer who could become India’s first openly gay judge.