Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Markandey Katju has apparently set his crosshairs on the next Chief Justice of India (CJI), HL Dattu, in a column published by the Times of India and re-published on his own blog.
Katju argued in his post that the CJI post should not be awarded automatically on the basis of seniority amongst Supreme Court judges, but should be given to the most qualified and meritorious by the government – presumably under the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which Katju was a staunch campaigner for.
The present Chief Justice of India, Justice Lodha, is retiring on 27th September , 2014, and the question now is who should be appointed his successor ?
In conclusion I repeat : when the present Chief Justice of India, Justice Lodha retires, the Government of India should not go by seniority but choose the fittest person and appoint him as the Chief Justice of India.
While Katju never mentioned Dattu by name in his column, Dattu is next in line by seniority to succeed Lodha after his retirement in a month on 27 September.
The thrust of Katju’s argument was that the government should be free to appoint high court and even lower court judges directly into the CJI position, citing examples of successful Supreme Court chief justices in the US such as ex-California governor Earl Warren or former district court judge John Roberts, who is currently presiding.
While Katju never specified why he was opposed to Dattu becoming chief, he outlined three options for why seniority should not be followed: questionable personal integrity; legal mediocrity; or that a high court’s chief justice could be better qualified (“At present I know of some outstanding Chief Justices of High Courts whom I regard as deserving to be appointed directly as Chief Justice of India”, added Katju, helpfully).
He also claimed to have “documentary proof” of the corruption of a former CJI, which had been known to the President and others before his appointment:
(1) The senior most judge may be a person of questionable integrity, or may have done wrong things. I have with me a dossier ( given to me by a senior member of the Committee of Judicial Accountability) of one senior judge of the Supreme Court containing documentary proof of his corruption, and yet he was appointed as Chief Justice of India being the senior most in the Supreme Court. A copy of this dossier had been sent to the President of India and other high authorities before his appointment as Chief Justice, but no heed was paid to it.
(2) The senior most judge may be a man of integrity, but may be a mediocre person. He, too, should be superseded, and a judge next in seniority, or one even lower down in seniority, if outstanding ( as borne out from his judgments),should be made Chief Justice of India.
As an aside, Katju also picks on ex-CJI Altamas Kabir (again without naming him by name). Kabir had been criticised widely in the media after his retirement over the elevation of his sister to the Kolkata high court:
A Chief Justice of India who retired recently got his sister elevated to his parent high court although she was almost 60 years old ( the retirement age of high court judges being 62) and was widely regarded as undeserving. The Chief Justice of the high court who recommended her name was rewarded by being elevated shortly thereafter to the Supreme Court, while the Judge next in seniority ( who has the highest standard of integrity) who strongly objected in writing to her appointment as she was undeserving,was punished by being denied elevation to the Supreme Court, while his junior was elevated. This is the price which has often to be paid for honesty !