The Supreme Court collegium – including five senior-most judges – on Friday agreed in principle to reiterate Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph’s name for elevation as an apex court judge.
While the collegium rejected the government’s referral for reconsidering his nomination, it decided not to send the referral back to the government immediately.
After an hour-long deliberation today, the five-member Collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, unanimously decided that Justice Joseph's name should be accompanied with the recommendation of names of other Chief Justices of High Courts for elevation as judges of the Supreme Court.
The Collegium, in a resolution, said there was need for further discussion on the issue of sending the other names to the Centre and decided to meet again on May 16.
"The Chief Justice and other members of the Collegium have, on principle, unanimously agreed that the recommendation for appointment of Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice, Uttarakhand High Court (Parent High Court: Kerala) as a Judge of the Supreme Court should be reiterated.
"However, the said reiteration should also be accompanied by the recommendation of the names of Chief Justices of High Courts for elevation as Judges of the Supreme Court, for which detailed discussion is required," the resolution said.
"In view of the aforesaid, the meeting stands deferred for being held at 4.15 PM on Wednesday, May 16, 2018," it said.
The resolution further said the Collegium today met to consider the following agenda: "1. To consider reiteration of the recommendation dated January 10, 2018 for elevation of Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice, Uttarakhand High Court [Parent High Court: Kerala] as Judge of the Supreme Court. 2. To consider names of High Court Judges for elevation as Judges of the Supreme Court."
The decision to convene the meeting was taken late last evening by the CJI.
Justice Joseph, who turns 60 this June, has been the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court since July 2014. He was appointed a permanent judge of the Kerala High Court on October 14, 2004 and assumed charge of the Uttarakhand High Court on July 31, 2014.
Legal experts had earlier opined that the government is bound to appoint Justice Joseph as a Supreme Court judge in case the Collegium reiterates its recommendation to elevate him. However, the experts had said there is no time-frame for implementing the Collegium's recommendation.
On May 2, the Collegium had met on the issue but had deferred its decision.
In today's meeting, the agenda was same and besides Justice Joseph, the Collegium deliberated on the names of some judges from Calcutta, Rajasthan and Telangana & Andhra Pradesh High Courts for elevation as apex court judges.
The Centre, while returning the file of Justice Joseph to the collegium, had also mentioned that judges from various high courts have not found place in the apex court.
Justice Joseph's seniority was also questioned by the Centre which had said "he stands at Sl. No.45 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis."
The Collegium, while recommending Justice Joseph's name earlier, had said he was "more deserving and suitable in all respects" than other chief justices and judges of the high courts.
During the deliberations today, sources said those high court judges who are in the race to be elevated to the apex court are Chief Justice of Madras High Court Indira Banerjee, who is originally from the Calcutta HC, Gujarat HC Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy, whose parent cadre is Telangana and Andhra Pradesh HC, and Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, who is originally from Rajasthan HC.
It is pertinent to mention that Justice J Chelameswar, the senior-most judge of the apex court, had on May 9 written a letter to the CJI urging him to convene the Collegium meet to urgently forward Justice Joseph's name to the Centre.
The government had on April 26 returned the Collegium's recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph seeking its reconsideration, saying the proposal was not in accordance with the top court's parameters and there was adequate representation of Kerala in the higher judiciary from where he hails.
It had also questioned his seniority for elevation as a judge of the apex court.
According to an apex court official, Justice Chelameswar, in his letter sent to the CJI, had conveyed that he was reiterating his decision favouring elevation of Justice Joseph as the judge of the top court as there was no change in the circumstances that had led the Collegium to recommend his name to the government on January 10.
Justice Chelameswar, who retires on June 22, was also understood to have responded to all the points raised in the communication to the CJI by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressing reservations on the elevation of Justice Joseph.
Justice Kurian Joseph, during his visit to Kerala last week, had also reportedly made it clear that he was in favour of reiterating the recommendation of the Collegium on the issue concerning the Uttarakhand Chief Justice.