Hands off, SC tells government, reaffirming its primacy in judicial 

New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) The year just ending would go as one of reaffirmation by the supreme court of its primacy in judicial appointments that was sought to be taken away by the government scrapping the collegium system – in place since 1993 – and replacing it with a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).

The government’s move was viewed as interference in the independence of the judiciary. The appointment of judges is now likely to be more criteria-based and transparent as the collegium system had come under fire for its opaque functioning.

Describing the court’s decision as “most important”, well-known lawyer Indira Jaising says that “It is very important that the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary is maintained.”

The court had also struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, holding that it imposed unreasonable curbs on the freedom of speech and expression. This provision was used by the high and mighty to stifle public criticism of their actions, lawyers said.

The apex court’s footprint could be seen in every sphere of life – be it e-voting rights of NRIs, ejection of N. Srinivasan from the BCCI for his being in conflict of interest vis-à-vis the IPL, setting aside the stay of Salman Khan’s conviction by the Rajasthan High Court in the blackbuck hunting case or prohibiting the use of politicians’ images in government advertisements, among others.

It was not just the dirt in the corridors of power that came under the apex court’s scanner. It also upheld the integrity of competitive exams as it quashed the AIPMT 2014-15 for the leakage of papers and answer keys making the rounds of examination centres through electronic devices.

Calling spade a spade, the court said that there could be no compromise in a rape case with the accused offering to marry the victim.

Describing the performance of the court in 2015 “better than the average”, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan said: “On the whole it was better than an average year. The court was pro-active on many public interest issues.”

The year 2015 will also be remembered for the Supreme Court sitting in the early hours of July 30 to hear the last ditch – but unsuccessful – attempt by Yakub Memon – convicted for the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts – to escape the gallows.

However, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves – known for taking up social causes involving vulnerable and deprived sections of society – was unimpressed by the court’s performance 2015.

“To some extent, the direction the Supreme Court takes depends on the approach of the chief justice of India. The year was disappointing. In respect of death sentences, the judgments delivered were appalling. On critical social issues, the Supreme Court lost its way. However, the most outstanding judgment was in the NJAC case which made up for all omissions,” Gonsalves added.

Important Supreme Court judgments 2015

Jan 14: Sets aside stay on Salman Khan’s conviction by the Rajasthan High Court in blackbuck hunting case

Jan 22: Bars N. Srinivasan from contesting BCCI elections on account of being in conflict of interest

Feb 3: Says it’s the government’s constitutional mandate to maintain and preserve the country’s heritage and culture

Feb 26: Says re-conversion to Hinduism entitled the scheduled castes to benefits of reservations

March 17: Quashes extension of OBC reservation to Jats

April 24: Saya poverty can’t come in the way of releasing a person granted bail

May 13: Prohibits politicians’ images on government advertisements

May 14: Says ex-CBI chief’s meetings with coal scam accused improper

July 9: Hands over probe into the Vyapam admission and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh to the CBI

Sept 11: Says un-registered NGOs can’t run children’s homes

Oct 9: Imposes environment cess on commercial vehicles entering Delhi

Oct 15: Maharashtra’s dance bars get a breather as provision in law barring performances at eating places, beer bars and restaurants stayed

Oct 16: Holds NJAC unconstitutional and restores collegium system

Oct. 16: Calls for safeguards against arbitrary divorce and second marriage by a Muslim woman’s husband during currency of the first marriage

Dec 2: Says Tamil Nadu can’t free on its own those convicted of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

Dec 3: Justice T.S. Thakur sworn in as Chief Justice of India

Dec 10: Upholds amendment to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act introducing eligibility criteria, including formal education, for candidates

Dec 16: Hikes environment cess on commercial vehicles entering Delhi

Dec 16: Tells the centre to prepare memorandum of procedure on the appointment of judges to higher judiciary.

Dec 16: Banks can’t block information on defaulters, losses and alleged illegalities invoking exceptions under the RTI Act

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