In a wide-ranging tete-a-tete at the India Today Conclave 2023, former CJI UU Lalit shared his thoughts on the collegium system, the controversial PMLA law and his most difficult case. Before he was appointed the 49th Chief Justice of India, Retd Justice UU Lalit had a distinguished career as a criminal lawyer, during which he was involved in several high-profile and controversial cases.
At the India Today Conclave 2023, former CJI UU Lalit was asked what was the most difficult case he handled in his decades-long run in the legal profession. He immediately replied it was the 2G scam. “Not in terms of quality or any kind of problem it posed, but the sheer bulk of the matter. The paperwork ran into lakhs of pages and by the time we had finished, around 150 witnesses had been examined,” he explained.
The 2G scam, amounting to Rs 1.76 lakh crore, involved politicians and government officials selling frequency allocation licences to telecom companies at throwaway prices. Under the orders of the Supreme Court, UU Lalit was appointed Special Public Prosecutor for the CBI to conduct trial in all matters related to the 2G spectrum case.
All accused in the case, including former telecom minister A Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi, were acquitted by a Delhi court in December 2021.
At a time when it is under attack, former CJI UU Lalit backed the collegium system, asserting that nothing is better than this system. Asked if the executive should have a say in the judiciary system, former CJI UU Lalit said, "Collegium system is an ideal system."
He went on to say that judges are required at every level and the whole system is geared to having the best possible talent. The executive has no say in the lower judiciary as it is completely under the control of the high courts, which sees their performance on a daily basis.
“Who are better positioned to see their merit or talent? Somebody who is sitting as an executive here [Delhi] or someone who has seen the grassroots level performance, say in Kochi, Manipur or Andhra Pradesh?” he asked rhetorically.
ON ‘BAIL NOT JAIL’
In a landmark ruling last year, the Supreme Court said that bail remains the rule and jail is the exception, and called for a separate bail law to prevent "unnecessary arrests. Asked if he was concerned about lower court not granting bail in cases should have been given in the normal course, Retd Justice Lalit said grant of bail depends on individual perspective. Another factor is statutory provisions, which sometimes make it difficult to grant bail.
Responding to another question about whether the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) should be reviewed, the former CJI replied the validity of the legislation would have to be challenged first.
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