Senior Advocates can be considered as ‘eminent jurists’ for the Lokpal selection panel

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In a recent development in the Lokpal issue, the government has informed the Supreme Court, that a senior advocate can be nominated as an ‘eminent jurist’ in the selection committee responsible for the appointment of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal. The government also clarified that such a nomination would not lead to a conflict of interest situation even if the senior advocate so nominated makes an appearance before a Supreme Court judge who may be in the running for the post of chairperson or member of the Lokpal panel.

The government is of the opinion that if it were to disallow practicing advocates from being eligible for nomination as ‘eminent jurists’, the result will not be very advantageous to the whole process, as it will unnecessarily exclude some of the best minds in the country from participating from the procedure. The government made the above arguments through an affidavit filed by the Department of Personnel and Training which is involved in defending the law in place for appointing the chairperson and members to the Lokpal panel.

The affidavit had been submitted before the Court in a matter involving a Public Interest Litigation petition filed by Just Society, an activist organisation. Through the affidavit, the government countered the petitioner’s allegations which postulated that a conflict of interest would be created if a senior advocate were to be nominated as an ‘eminent jurist’. According to the petitioners, since the senior advocate would have previously appeared before the judges eligible for the appointments to the posts of chairperson or members, his participation in the selection proceedings would not be independent or free from the risk or suspicion of bias.

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Further, the Central Government pointed out that the choice of eminent jurist would be made after taking into consideration the recommendations of the selection committee members which comprise the Prime Minister, Speaker of the House, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him.

The Government argued that, the contention that the nomination of such eminent jurist by “august collegium” would probably be responsible for the creation of a conflict of interest situation, casts serious cloud over the transparency and the sanctity of the selection panel. Moreover, according to the government, since there is no issue in appointing the CJI or a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to the Lokpal panel on the ground that the appeal against the decision of the Lokpal panel may lie before the top court, there should be no reason for alarm regarding the appointment of senior advocates as eminent jurists.

The Government rejected the petitioner’s fear-mongering concerns related to political interference and nepotism, by stating that the Selection Committee of the Lokpal is a small committee. Moreover, the procedure for the appointment of Lokpal chairperson will be transparent and fair, according to the Centre.

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by Siddhartha Singh.