A month before Justice A.K. Sikri’s vote decided the fate of Alok Verma as CBI director, the Narendra Modi government had offered him the plum post of president/member in the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT).
ThePrint asks: Did Justice Sikri’s govt offer generate a needless row or shows why judges must avoid post-retirement jobs?
If a sitting SC judge has been offered a job by govt, they are likely to become biased
Advocate and former secretary, Delhi High Court Bar Association
Within a day of the Supreme Court reinstating Alok Verma as the CBI chief, the high-level committee dislodged him from his post. There is a great chance that the Supreme Court and the government were working hand in glove and this was all an eye-wash. This was just an attempt at trying to preserve the reputation of both the institutions, while ultimately doing what was always intended.
As far as Justice Sikri’s episode is concerned, there is no doubt that all sitting judges on the verge of retirement want a good job post-retirement. They try to appease the ruling party to fulfill their desire to secure a post. The trend of becoming a governor after retiring from the Supreme Court is also shameful.
If a sitting SC judge has been offered a job by the government, they will, in all likelihood become biased. After all, the job is a reward for the work the judge did in favour of the government.
All of this diminishes the credibility of the Judiciary, the CBI as well as the government. The system has become a joke.
This also casts a shadow on the decision made by the committee comprising of Justice Sikri on Alok Verma. Now, Justice Sikri has only turned down the offer because of all the criticism that was coming his way. He was left with no other option.
Judges are extremely talented and learned, it shouldn’t go to waste after retirement
Senior advocate and Chairman of Delhi Bar Council
The decision of Justice Sikri to reject the post-retirement offer is highly commendable. As a matter of fact, he has set an example for everyone to follow. The judiciary is completely independent of the executive. The job of the judiciary is to keep an exclusive check on the workings of the executive. Thus, the two cannot mingle.
That said, this doesn’t imply that Justice Sikri was biased in his previous verdicts and decisions just because was offered a job by the government. Justice Sikri is one of the most upright and competent judges in the system. Despite this, he went ahead and refused the offer only so that he can lead by example. We should appreciate that decision, and not undermine his credibility.
The general sentiment in the bar is that retired judges should not be accepting government jobs. But the judges carry immense talent and a world of experience with them. This shouldn’t go to waste after their retirement. There is a serious dearth of good legal education in the country. The paucity can be compensated for if the retired judges start venturing into academia. This will be a wonderful way to contribute to the careers of aspiring lawyers, and also prevent any allegations of conflict of interest.
Justice Sikri’s role in CBI panel after plum govt offer will be questioned
Senior Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court
There is no doubt that the judicial and personal credibility of the seniormost puisne judge of the Supreme Court, Justice A.K. Sikri, has been gravely undermined by ThePrint exclusive of his having been offered the prestigious membership of the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitration Tribunal (CSAT) by the government — just a month before his endorsement of the government’s stand leading to the removal of Alok Verma as CBI director.
Apart from his seniority, Justice Sikri is by no means a mediocre judge. He is a man of erudition and a legal intellectual in his own right. As such, he cannot be expected to have been oblivious to the implications of his accepting the membership of the CSAT before his participation in the CBI selection panel. Giving up the appointment now, after the news story, can hardly mend matters or serve to repair his image.
The fact that Justice Sikri is on the last leg of his tenure in the Supreme Court and will retire early March, and that the CSAT appointment is for a period as long as four years, cannot but be factored in, in any objective evaluation of the situation.
A senior judge about to retire from the Supreme Court accepting a prestigious post-retirement appointment for a secured term of four years from the government, and then participating in the selection panel and lending his unqualified and unstinted support to the Prime Minister, resulting in the ouster of the PM’s bête noire, Alok Verma, is serious and substantial enough to throw up a big question mark on Justice Sikri’s credibility.
His participation in the selection panel does not relate to any exercise of judicial power, but is an administrative exercise for which he can be publicly questioned and criticised.
Neither judiciary nor govt cares about retirement age or a mandatory cooling-off period
Any conversation on the issue of post-retirement jobs for retired judges is a contentious one. Those who have taken up jobs post-retirement have come under heavy criticism. But the fact of the matter is that judges are needed once they retire.
There are various tribunals, committees, commissions and other bodies where retired judges need to be appointed. However, the manner in which the appointment is done and their acceptance is telling in more ways than one. There has been a clarion call to increase the retirement age of the judges and a mandatory cooling off period. However, neither the judiciary nor the government seems to pay heed to these suggestions.
In fact, in 2012 BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari had suggested that the clamour for post-retirement jobs was affecting the court’s judgments. But the current NDA administration has not exactly refrained from offering jobs to retired judges, having appointed at least 12 in its five-year term, whereas the remaining 14 were appointed during UPA I and II.
Over the past decade, many of the 50-odd judges who have retired have opted for post-retirement jobs. At least 26 accepted government jobs, while 13 started practicing law again. The status of another six judges is unclear, while three declared that they will not accept post-retirement jobs.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.
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