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Law Commission recommends fixed tenure for CJI

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Same retirement age of 65 for Supreme Court and High Court judges, a “cooling-off period” for judges after retirement and a fixed tenure for Chief Justice of India.

These are the three changes Law Commission Chairperson A.P. Shah has recommended in his note to Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

These three, he says, is “intertwined” with the “overhaul” required in the process of judicial appointments.

Justice Shah’s note titled ‘A Judicial Appointments Commission for India: A Proposal’ became the central point of debate between the Law Ministry and eminent jurists on Monday.

The meeting discussed the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) as a permanent, Constitutional body to replace the Collegium system.

Justice Shah reasons that the retirement age of Supreme Court judges was increased to 65 as an “incentive” for High Court judges to leave the comfort of their hometowns and come to New Delhi.

This consideration is no longer relevant, the note says. The retirement age of High Court judges is 62. Elevation to the Supreme Court guarantees them an additional three-year tenure.

The note says it is time to introduce a three-year “cooling off” period for retired judges before the take up positions offered by the government.

It recommends that the Chief Justice of India should get a fixed tenure of two years in case their tenure as CJI is less than two years. This step should be implemented from August 26, 2022 after the junior-most judge currently serving in the Supreme Court, and who is slated to be CJI, retires.

Justice N.V. Ramana, presently a judge in the Supreme Court, if appointed as the CJI will retire on August 26, 2022.

The note says the JAC should be a seven-member body with the CJI as chairperson, and three Supreme Court judges. Incidentally, the note has the Law Minister as the sole representative from the government side “to ensure that the executive has a meaningful voice”.

The note recommends the JAC to have a “full-time” Secretariat headed by a retired High Court judge and a “small investigating team” to verify the antecedents of the proposed candidates. This will do away with IB investigations.

The note wants the JAC to interview candidates in-camera; have the entire process “publicly disclosed” with adequate safeguards in place to protect candidates’ privacy; and publish annual report on appointments made to ensure transparency. The JAC’s recommendation of a candidate is “ordinarily binding” on the President.

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