NEW DELHI (TIP): In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court declared the National Judicial Appointments Commission, set up by the NDA government, unconstitutional. The collegium system, where semior judges appoint judges,will continue, the court said.

“I’m really surprised by this verdict, Union Law Minister VS Gowda, said.

The top court struck down the the 99th Constitutional amendment brought by the NDA government. The bench revived the collegium system of appointment of judges, commonly referred to as judges-selecting-judges.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice J S Khehar , by a 4:1 majorit, termed both the amendment and the NJAC Act unconstitutional, because it interfered with the independence of the judiciary.

One of the contentious provisions of the new law was the inclusion of two eminent persons to the Commission which included the Chief Justice of India, two “senior most” judges of the apex court and the Union law minister. The two persons were to be nominated by a committee of the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. TheNarendra Modi government said the Commission would bring transparency in the appointment of judges to the high courts and Supreme Court.

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The apex court has scheduled November 3 for further hearings on the issue of improving the collegium system of appointment of judges.

The petitions challenging the new legislation were filed by the group, the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, and others, who contended that the new law would hurt the independence of the judiciary.

The Centre had defended the introduction of the new law saying that the two-decade-old collegium system was not free from defects. It added that the Supreme Court Bar Association supported the new Commission. The creation of the Commission was also supported by 20 state governments that ratified the NJAC Act and the amendment.

The collegium system — by which the body of senior SC judges headed by the Chief Justice of India selected persons and recommended their names for appointment as judges –was created by two judgments of the SC in the 1990s.

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