The Supreme Court of India has been entrusted by the framers of the Constitution of India to be the arbiter of law in the country, and hence it would be uncalled for to make a judgement on the Court’s near-unanimous decision rejecting the proposed National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) as well as the corollary effort to do away with the collegium system for appointment of judges of the superior courts. Absent a valid challenge by both the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha acting in unison, it must be assumed that this verdict of the Apex Court is final, and that the system introduced in 1993 by Chief Justice J.S. Verma, of judges choosing judges, stays. However, the Supreme Court needs to ensure that the system, which it has decreed is in conformity with the Constitution of India, should be transparent and accountable. Corruption in any branch of the state is a crime, and this maxim applies with particular force to the custodian of the rights of the citizen and the defender of the Rule of Law, the judiciary in India headed with such distinction by the Supreme Court. If there have been murmurs against the system of judges selecting judges, it is because of a perception that the degree of transparency required in a democracy is not always obvious in such selections.
Such a state of affairs is certainly simple to remedy, and a method of ensuring the required level of transparency would be to reveal the names of the candidates being discussed for appointment to high judicial posts on a website created for the purpose. Comments could be invited from the public, and if evidence surfaces that the candidate in question may not be the most suitable for the honour of elevation to a bench or to a judgeship in a higher court, the Supreme Court through its collegium can be expected to take such newly revealed facts into consideration in its final decision on the matter. Of course, malicious and untruthful allegations would be treated with the contempt they deserve. The Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu will also need to ensure that the highest and therefore most stringent standards of judicial accountability be enforced. In such a context, the Court may consider the appointment of an ombudsman for itself as well as for each subordinate court, who would go into any complaints made against them, thereby freeing some of the time of the justices.
Finally, justice delayed is the same as justice denied, and the legal system in India has acquired a worldwide reputation for the length of time taken for many cases to reach the stage of a final verdict. While protecting its independence from the executive, the Supreme Court needs to ensure that the collegium system functions in a more flawless manner.