The union ministry of law and justice has decided not to increase the sanctioned strength of judges in high courts, despite an ongoing tussle between the judiciary and the executive over vacant judges’ positions in high courts and a demand from the judiciary for creating new posts.
“There will be no new positions of judges created in 2017. It has been decided that the focus should be on filling existing vacancies,” a senior official in the ministry said.
The ministry’s decision to keep the number of judges’ positions at the current 1,079 across 24 high courts could lead to more friction between the executive and the judiciary. The previous chief justice of India TS Thakur, who was at loggerheads with the Narendra Modi government throughout his tenure over vacancies in the judiciary, said last December that more judges posts must be created.
Speaking at a judicial officers’ conference in Bengaluru on December 19, Justice Thakur said the “delay in sanction of new judges’ posts and filling vacancies of judges in High Courts has rendered the judiciary inadequate in delivering the constitutional mandate.” He retired on January 3 with Justice JS Khehar taking over as the new CJI.
The government is of the view that the high courts have enough positions of judges and filling up the positions would take care of the problem of cases piling up.
“There have always been vacancies to the tune of 30% in the judiciary,” a ministry official said.
The ministry now wants the Supreme Court collegium – a body of five top judges of the country that selects judges for the SC and HCs – to finalise the new memorandum of procedure (MoP) pending with it since August. The government had carried out amendments in the MoP after a bench headed by Justice Khehar called for measures to improve the collegium system and make it more transparent.
The Centre believes the appointment of CJI Khehar puts a moral obligation on the collegium to recommend names under the amended MOP which has been pending for approval of the collegium for five months now.