CJI at Justice Banerjee farewell: Collegium always picks the best

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Chief Justice of India U U Lalit on Friday responded to criticism that women lawyers from the Supreme Court were not being considered for elevation to the bench as the Collegium “is not interested in getting good people”, saying the “collegium always picks up the best of the lot”.

“At the outset I must say that the Collegium always picks the best of the lot”, the CJI said addressing a farewell organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) for Justice Indira Banerjee who retired Friday. The CJI was responding to comments by SCBA president Vikas Singh.

Singh who spoke before the CJI said that with the retirement of Justice Banerjee, “we are losing a very fine judge”. He added that “there was a time when we had four lady judges. And now again, we will be back to three lady judges. I beseech the CJI to not only fill up 2-3 vacancies to the Supreme Court with lady lawyers, but also ensure every High Court in the country has a reasonable number of lady judges. Patna High Court has no lady judge and we have so many good lawyers practising in our court who are willing to go there…But, unfortunately, because of this system that we are following today, the Collegium system…is not interested in getting good people, best people, so these elevations are not happening”.

The SCBA has for long been batting for elevation of more lawyers to the SC and High Court benches.

The CJI said Justice Banerjee with her “calm, quiet composure” made “exemplary and immense contribution” to the legal profession. He recalled some of her important judgments, including the latest wherein a five-judge Constitution bench held that a majority judgment of a larger bench would prevail over even a unanimous decision by a bench of lesser strength. He called it a “beautiful judgment”.

Justice Banerjee said she is reminded of the day 34-36 years ago when she first set foot in the SC “as a shy, diffident junior, coming…to do a case from the Calcutta High Court”, adding, “I would never have imagined then that one day I will be addressing a farewell speech from this podium”.