The current government issued a large number of notifications, signing off on a multitude of appointments in three high courts on November 1, 2018; on the same day that the Supreme Court reprimanded states and high courts for their failure to fill judge vacancies. A bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice U Lalit and Justice K M Joseph had taken suo moto note of the problem and directed 24 high courts and 36 states and union territories (UTs) to notify and brief it of the vacancies and the requisite time frame for filling them up and said instead of leaving the issue to them, it may undertake this exercise.
The bench on 1st November pronounced that it would monitor the ongoing selection process so that it could be concluded at the earliest. The bench was of the opinion that the high courts are not taking this issue of filling up vacancies with due “seriousness”. Also, it showed its displeasure with the disobedience regarding the examination schedule and the timeline fixed by the apex court. The bench said, “If any high court cannot do it, we will do it. We will have a centralized system. If you do not want us to do it, then you do it. You will be in our constant gaze. We want judges in place.” There had been over 5,000 vacant posts of judicial officers. The bench summoned the registrar generals of 10 high courts to inform it of ongoing recruitment process and issues of infrastructure.
According to the National Judicial Data Grid, over 2.7 crore cases are pending in courts all across the country. Over 8% of cases have been pending for over 10 years. There is a 20% and 40% vacancy of judges at the Supreme Court and High courts respectively. A reason for the backlog in the appointment of judges is that the collegium recommendation begins after a couple of months of the judicial vacancy. On this battle of inordinate judicial delays, the former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is of the opinion that “only if the vacancies in the subordinate courts are tackled, pending cases could be brought down to zero”.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is known to being very keen on reducing the pendency of cases had in past said that all the country needs is a consistent policy in the matters relating to the pendency of cases. According to him “the problem does not lie in the short tenure (of judges). It lie in the change of priorities with the change of chief justices. The Indian judiciary must have a consistent policy. Then if you have a policy and if you implement it, then the tenure will not be a matter.” On the one hand, where CJI is all about consistent policies and no leaves for judges on working days, the law ministry had pitched in for all-India services to recruit judges for the lower judiciary. The proposed concept of All-India Judicial Services would be of assistance to craft a pool of talented people who could later become part of the higher judiciary. However, several states and high courts opposed the idea and as per the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the idea cannot be implemented without consultations.
The proposal for an All-India Judicial Services along with All-India Services has been a point of endless debate ever since the idea was first given by the Law Commission in the1950s. The Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) act 1976 inserted in the Constitution an “all-India judicial services” provision in Article 312 based on the recommendation made by Swaran Singh Committee. It was endorsed and recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, first National Judicial Pay Commission and the National Advisory Council.
Bhanu Priya Bhati
Student Reporter- INBA