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Suitability of a candidate cleared by Collegium can’t be subject of judicial review: SC

Published: 16th Feb, 2023

Context

Recently, the Supreme Court explained that “suitability” of a candidate cleared by the Collegium for appointment as a judge in a constitutional court cannot be a subject of judicial review.

About

What’s the matter?

  • The Supreme Court Collegium recently recommended the name of Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri to be appointed as a judge of the Madras High Court.
    • This came amidst ongoing tension between the Centre and the Collegium over constant delays in the Centre clearing names recommended by the Collegium. 
  • Protest: Soon after Advocate Gowri’s name was recommended, lawyers at the Madras High Court began protesting against her appointment due to:
    • Hate speech: her past public speeches hint at strong prejudices against citizens on grounds of their religious affiliations.

Why Ms. Gowri’s appointment is outside the ambit of ‘judicial review’?

  • The court said the question whether Ms. Gowri was “fit” to be a judge was outside the ambit of judicial review.
  • The question whether a person is fit to be appointed as a judge essentially involves the aspect of suitability and stands excluded from the purview of judicial review.

Suitability vs Eligibility

The Chief Justice and Judges of the High Courts are to be appointed by the President under clause (1) of Article 217 of the Constitution.

  • The Bench distinguished between ‘suitability’ and ‘eligibility’ of a candidate zeroed in for High Court judgeship.
  • Eligibility was based on “objective factors” given in Article 217(2) of the Constitution.
  • Suitability of a candidate was the domain of the Collegium as it involved a procedure “designed to test the fitness of a person, including her character, integrity, competence, knowledge and the like”.

What is the Collegium System?

  • It is the system of appointment and transfer of judges that has evolved through judgments of the Supreme Court, and not by an Act of Parliament or by a provision of the Constitution.
    • It came into existence through Second and Third Judges Case judgments.
  • The Supreme Court collegium is headed by the Chief Justice of India and comprises four other senior-most judges of the court.
  • Names recommended for appointment by a High Court collegium reaches the government only after approval by the CJI and the Supreme Court collegium.
  • Judges of the higher judiciary are appointed only through the collegium system, and the government has a role only after names have been decided by the collegium.

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