SC declares National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) unconstitutional, upholds Collegium system

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In a historical judgment, the Supreme Court has struck down on the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act holding it unconstitutional. National Judicial Appointments Commission was meant to replace the two-decade old collegium system of judges appointing judges in higher judiciary.

  • The Supreme Court also held that the Collegium system as it existed before the NJAC 'operative' and quashed the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act in an unanimous verdict. 
  • The Supreme Court also declared as unconstitutional the 99th amendment to the Constitution to bring in the Act to replace the collegium system.
  • The unanimous verdict that strucked down  the NJAC Act was delivered by a five-judge Constitution bench comprising justices J S Khehar, J Chelameswar M B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Goel. 
  • While four judges Justices JS Khehar, MB Lokur, Kurian Joseph and AK Goel  declared as unconstitutional the 99th Constitutional Amendment, Justice J Chelmeswar held that it is validity.
  • The bench  also rejected the plea of Central government to refer for review to larger bench the 1993 and 1998 verdict of the apex court on the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

Collegium system for appointment of judges :-

  • The collegium system came into being in the 1990s when the Supreme Court decided in two cases that judges will appoint themselves no other branch of the state - including the legislature and the executive - would have any say in the appointment of judges. There is no mention of the collegium either in the original Constitution of India or in successive amendments.

Background of National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC)  :-

  • The NJAC was a body created to end the two-decade-old Supreme Court Collegium system of judges appointing judges to the highest courts in the land.
  • The parliament had unanimously voted in favour of the NJAC law and the Constitutional Amendment. The latter was then ratified by 20 State Assemblies and had received the Presidential assent. The Act was enforced from April 13, 2015.
  • Under this two eminent Indians would be chosen by the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Apart from the two chosen, the panel would also comprise the Chief Justice of India, the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court and the Law Minister.  
  • The major bone of contention was the inclusion of two eminent persons to the NJAC which included Chief Justice of India, two senior most judges of the apex court and the Union Law Minister.

Petitioners

  • The petitions challenging the new legislation were filed by the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) and others contending that the new law on the selection and appointment of judges was unconstitutional and aimed at hurting the independence of judiciary.
  • Noted jurists like Fali Nariman, Anil Divan and Ram Jethmalani were among prominent senior advocates who had argued against the NJAC replacing the collegium system.
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