With a paradigm shift in access to data on judges, the Supreme Court Collegium could be on the verge of being transparent

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First some good news. On Saturday, India’s Chief Justice, Justice UULalit, along with his fellow Supreme Court Justices, Justices DY Chandrachud and MRShah, and Orissa High Court Chief Justice, Dr Justice S. Muralidhar, have published a dataset and booklet, titled KHOJ (Know Your High Court Judges), which is likely to mark a paradigm shift in the quality of our access to data on High Court judges. The event was attended by other judges of the High Court of Orissa, the Advocate General and senior members of the Bar.

The KHOJ dataset is now available on justice centerwhich is an open source platform for law and justice related data.

Why is this an important step in collecting data on our judges?

The dataset, according to the team that created it, contains 27 files with 25 files dedicated to each High Court and includes personal, educational and professional information across 43 variables on all judges appointed between October 6, 1993 and May 31, 2021.

The KHOJ dataset is an integrated master file with the details of 1708 judges from all High Courts where each judge’s name appears only once. In High Court records, a judge’s name appears separately in the record of each High Court where he sat. There is a codebook that explains each of the 43 variables and the range of responses to each variable that were entered into the dataset.

The date of October 6, 1993 is important in our judicial history. It marks the beginning of the collegiate system for recruiting judges into the upper judiciary. In the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India heads two colleges: first, a five-member college consisting of himself and four other experienced judges to recommend judges for appointment to the Supreme Court; secondly, a college of three members, responsible for recommending judges to be appointed to the various high courts.

Since its inception, however, the college system has been under critical review by observers and scholars for its omissions and commissions. A consistent criticism has been that the college has never valued transparency in its decision-making. The college has never shared information on the merits of those recommended for judgeships except for a short period during the tenure of former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra after the conference press conference held by the four most dissenting justices of the Supreme Court on January 12, 2018.

Even during this short period of transparency, the college saw no point in sharing information on which candidates were shortlisted by it, which were not selected, and for what reasons. The lack of transparency in the process of selecting judges for the upper judiciary has led to many moments of crisis, which have only tarnished its credibility.

With the general public not having access to data on high court judges and those raised to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court panel evolved, after each revelation of its rulings resulting in erroneous selections and transfers or his inability to uplift those who were truly deserving, not to mention will reiterateyou his good recommendations, in the face of resistance of the executive.

It is perhaps too early to anticipate whether KHOJ is likely to mark a change in this erratic way of functioning of the college, but it is certain to open the doors of transparency, which will make the college take note of the progress of the story, and give way to the opening at some point in the future.

What explains our hope?

The personal details that have been entered into the dataset include gender, date of birth, place of birth and other basic details. Education background variables cover education information, graduation subject, law school attendance, and post-graduation details. Professional details include whether the judge is from the service or the bar, details of government and private sector constitution, details of the chambers they have worked in, etc. There are other variables that track the details of a judge’s career such as number of transfers, transfer destinations, appointment as chief judge, etc.

This dataset was created through a collaborative exercise involving the Center for Public Policy, Law and Good Governance (National Law University, Odisha), Agame and CivicDataLab. More than 30 students and 10 professionals participated in this exercise for more than a year. The launch pad for KHOJ was the “Summer of Data 2021” program where students from across the country curated the original data which then went through multiple rounds of cleaning and verification.

The basic philosophy behind the construction of such a data set, according to its creators, is the realization that the people of the country should have more information about the judges whose decisions have such a real impact on the lives of These persons. It is also hoped that the dataset will help researchers conduct further studies of the composition of our High Courts as well as studies focusing on the link between judicial behavior and the backgrounds of judges.

Our past coverage

Here are some recent articles published by The Leaflet on the broader issue of legal liability and how it can be ensured:

In a July 1 opinion piece, Professor Rangin Pallav Tripathy elucidated why litigants should have adequate information about judges before deciding to go to the court system.
In a opinion piece on August 26, The booklet Co-Founder and Senior Advocate, Indira Jaising has questioned the silence of India’s outgoing Chief Justice NVRamana on the non-selection of Justice AA Kureshi to the Supreme Court and the non-nomination of Saurabh Kirpal to the Delhi High Court, despite the college’s recommendation in its favour.
August 11, Paras Nath Singh Explain why being appointed as a senior judge is still a mirage for most female lawyers and why this is unlikely to change in the near future.
On June 12, we reported the results of an empirical study that suggested that recruiting more judges is the only solution to the judicial wait.

(V Venkatesan is Editor-in-Chief, The Leaflet)


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