Supreme Court judges unhappy as Centre lowers Justice KM Joseph’s seniority

The long-drawn confrontation between the judiciary an the Centre over non-elevation of Justice KM Joseph as a Supreme Court judge is far from over despite the government, after much back and forth, issuing a notification for his appointment.

Two days before Justice Joseph is set to be sworn in by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, a fresh trouble is brewing over the government “tinkering with his seniority in the appointment notification” and downgrading him.

The trigger is the August 3 notification of appointment issued by Centre placing him below two judges–Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran–who will also will be sworn in on Tuesday.

This is despite the fact that Justice Joseph was first to be recommended by the SC Collegium, comprising the CJI and four senior-most judges of the SC.

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But the Centre was sitting on the file since January this year.

One of the senior-most judges in the collegium who requested anonymity said senior judges will be meeting the CJI on Monday and complain against the “clear interference” by the Centre.

“Justice Joseph was the first to be recommended by the SC Collegium and his name should have been first in the appointment notification. However, the notification names him third, making him junior to the other two judges. Seniority matters in the Supreme Court. It is a crucial factor,” he said.\

The Centre was forced to issue the notification appointing Justice Joseph because the SC Collegium reiterated his name on July 21 after it was rejected by government.

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The government’s long indecision and ultimate rejection of Justice Joseph’s candidature is widely seen as “revengeful” as he had in April 2016 quashed the President’s rule in Uttarakhand and allowed Congress to come back to power in the hill state. But the law ministry has all along been denying the allegation.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in a letter to the CJI had maintained that Justice Joseph’s name was not cleared. He said it was “in violation of SC’s parameters on seniority and merit”. He cited inadequate representation in the top court from other states and said there was already a judge from Kerala, Justice Joseph’s native state.

Worse, the rejection came after the Centre sat on the proposal for three months, inviting criticism from four senior-most judges in the Collegium who wrote to the CJI to act, lest it is not seen as a sign of the judiciary succumbing to the pressures of the executive.

CJI Misra had been cautioned by four other senior judges in the Collegium– Justices Chelameswar (now retired), Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B Lokur–against bowing to the governmental on appointment of Justice Joseph.

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Updated: August 6, 2018 — 6:25 am