The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling today, said that the recently-framed National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), whereby government sought have a say in the appointment of judges, is 'unconstitutional.' That means the existing collegium system of the judiciary choosing its own, will continue. However the judges who voted 4-1 for striking down the amendment said that the existing collegium system needed improvement.
The central government was quick to react to the verdict, and senior cabinet ministers said that the government would respond to the judgement with a detailed reply after deliberations with lawyers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Friday afternoon, finance minister Arun Jaitley called a meeting of all the Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons to brief them on the NJAC judgement.
"When they're saying that we need to get suggestions on improving working of collegium system, that means there was something wrong," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology on Friday.
The detailed order explaining the rationale behind the five-member bench's verdict is over 1,000 pages long.
"The grounds for unconstitutionality is that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution," said advocate Surat Singh on Friday, shortly after the ruling. "The independence of the judiciary is part of the basic structure and it (NJAC) interferes with that."
"It was decided that the Collegium system will be brought back, to make that system better," said attorney general Mukul Rohatgi. "The court said that there should be transparency in the appointment. Now Parliament and the government will decide what to do."
SC declared 99th amendment of constitution seeking appointment of judicial commission as 'unconstitutional': Surat Singh,Advocate— ANI (@ANI_news) October 16, 2015
The National Judicial Appointments Commission was conceived as a constitutional body proposed to replace the present Collegium system of appointing judges. The proposed collegium was to consist of the Chief Justice of India and a forum of four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court recommend appointments and transfers of judges. Though the Chief justice and the senior judges had veto power on any new judge, but the participation of all members of a committee was necessary to get in names for consideration.
Ministers of the central government said they were planning on giving a structured response to the judgment.
"I am really surprised with this verdict," said Union Law Minister Sadanand Gowda. "We have to go through the text, and will talk to law officers, senior colleagues and the Prime Minister."
"We will surely go through the judgement and come with a structured response," added Ravi Shankar Prasad. "But it is indeed very important to recall the circumstances in which the constitutional amendment came to be passed."
Meanwhile the Opposition welcomed the decision. Congress member and formal union law minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj called it a "historic decision". Meanwhile former minister and Haryana MLA Randeep Surjewala said, "Congress respects judgement of the Supreme Court of India."
Former AAP member and lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that SC had protected judicial independence with the verdict.
Kudos to the SC for protecting judicial independance by striking down the NJAC through which the politicos wanted to control appts of judges— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) October 16, 2015
Well-known Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve disagreed. "Disappointed with Supreme Court verdict on NJAC; the SC seems to have sent a strong message to Government," he said.
(This is a developing story. Please check back for updates)