Set up panels to appoint law officers: SC to Punjab, Haryana

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New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Punjab and Haryana to constitute selection committees with their respective law secretaries as member- secretaries to select government law officers in a fair and transparent manner.

An apex court bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph said the names of those selected by these committees would be forwarded to the Punjab and Haryana High Court chief justice who, in turn, would get it examined by a committee of high court judges.

Asking both Punjab and Haryana to undertake a “realistic assessment” of their need of law officers, the court said that “for a fair and objective system of appointment, there ought to be a fair and realistic assessment of the requirement, for otherwise, the appointments may be made not because they are required but because they come (in) handy for political aggrandisement, appeasement or personal benevolence of those in power towards those appointed”.

Pointing to the pitfalls in making appointment of law officers without a realistic assessment of their need, the court said: “The dangers of such an uncanalised and unregulated system of appointment, it is evident, are multi-dimensional resulting in erosion of the rule of law, public faith in the fairness of the system and injury to public interest and administration of justice.”

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“It is high time to call a halt to this process lest even the right thinking become cynical about our capacity to correct what needs to be corrected.”

Laying down the procedure for the selection and appointment of law officers, the court said that the “committee shall, on the basis of norms and criteria which the government concerned may formulate would conduct selection of law officers and submit a panel of names to the high court chief justice who may set up a committee of judges to review the panel and make recommendations to the chief justice”.

The court said in the absence of norms and criteria, the committee may formulate the same on its own.

“The high court chief justice may, based on any such recommendations (by the committee of judges), record his views regarding suitability of the candidates included in the panel” and the government “shall then be free to appoint the candidates having regard to the views expressed by the chief justice regarding their merit and suitability.”

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However, the apex court said, “we make it clear that… the right of the state governments to appoint any person eligible for such appointment as the advocate general in terms of Article 165 of the constitution of India”.

Asking other states to follow suit and reform their system of selection and appointment of law officers, the Supreme Court said: “Although we have confined our directions to the said two states only, yet other states would do well to reform their system of selection and appointment to make the same more transparent, fair and objective, if necessary, by amending the relevant manuals/rules and regulations on the subject.”

Without disturbing the existing appointment of government law officers, the court said, “We have not been able to persuade ourselves to accept the view that even when the appointments are made to offices heavily remunerated from the public exchequer the same can or ought to remain unregulated.”

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“That is particularly so when those appointed are expected, by the very nature of their appointment, to discharge important public function affecting not only state interest but the quality of justice which the courts administer.”

The apex court said this while answering a question as to whether the appointment of law officers by the state governments can be questioned or the process by which such appointments are made can be assailed on the ground that the same are arbitrary, and hence violative of the provisions of Article 14 of the constitution.

The court verdict came on a Punjab government plea challenging a high court order that put on hold the removal of Brijeshwar Singh Chahal, who was appointed a law officer by the earlier government.

In the course of the hearing, the issue of the appointment of law officers in Haryana too was raised by Pradeep Kumar Rapria.

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