The reviewer is a lawyer and a journalist on the staff of The Statesman.
Who is afraid of KM Joseph, Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court? On 10 January, a collegium of the Supreme Court comprising the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, and Justices Chelameshwar and Gogoi unanimously recommended the elevation of the Uttarakhand Chief Justice Joseph as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
The same day, the collegium cleared the names of 10 Chief Justices for that many High Courts. While recommending the name of Justice KM Joseph, “the collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on an all-India basis of chief justices and senior judges of high courts, apart from merit and integrity,” said the CJI.
According to Law Ministry sources, Justice Joseph was 12th in the list of seniority of chief justices of the 24 High Courts and 45th in the all-India judges’ seniority list.
The Kerala High Court Advocates Association on 19 February expressed concern over the unseemly delay in the elevation of the Uttarakhand Chief Justice. A resolution adopted by the association said, “Justice Joseph is known for his integrity, honesty, knowledge in law and independent discharge of judicial functions.
Such qualities cannot become a taboo for the appointment of any one as a judge.” Claiming the extraordinary delay by the government in clearing the name of Justice Joseph, the resolution said, “No judge shall be allowed to suffer for being honest and fearless in the discharge of his duties.”
Justice Joseph was a judge of the Kerala High Court before his elevation as the Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court.
Last month the Supreme Court took exception to the government’s tendency to go slow on the process of appointment of judges to the constitutional courts as witnessed after the striking down of the National Judicial Appointments Commission and called for drawing up of a time-frame for the judiciary to recommend names for appointment and the executive to effect the appointments in order to bring about speedy justice to litigants.
A Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said that it was seen that once the names were forwarded, they remained pending at the executive level for an unduly long time. Even after the clearance of the names by the collegium, these remain pending at the level of the executive.
As a result, the careers and tenures of future High Court judges recommended by the Supreme Court collegium are invariably cut short.
It may be recalled that a Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court headed by Justice Joseph in April 2016 caused embarrassment to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by quashing imposition of President’s Rule in the State.
Modi is not known to forget or forgive such temerity. After hibernating for six weeks, the executive found Justice KM Joseph “too junior” to be made a Supreme Court judge.