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Nearly 400 vacancies for judges in high courts; 75 await govt nod

Over 75 names cleared by the SC collegium for appointment to high courts are awaiting notification by the government.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2018 17:29 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Judges,High Court,Vacancies
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra.(PTI FILE PHOTO)

Vacancies for judges in India’s 24 high courts breached the 400-mark on February 1, according to statistics provided by the law ministry but were brought down on Saturday, with the appointment of five judges to the Karnataka high court.

The latest data released by the ministry’s department of justice showed that 403 of the total 1,079 posts of judges were vacant on February 1, up from 397 a month ago.

“The government has notified the appointment of five additional judges to the Karnataka high court. More appointments are awaiting clearance at different levels,” a law ministry official said on Saturday.

Another official, wishing anonymity, said recommendations and clearances were awaited from both the government and the judiciary.

Appointments to the high courts are made by a three-member Supreme Court collegium, which consists of the three top SC judges, including the Chief Justice of India, who heads the body. Appointments to the SC are made by a 5-member collegium consisting of the five senior-most judges.

Similar bodies in high courts (called HC collegiums) select prospective candidates and send their names and professional records to the law ministry. The ministry, along with background check reports by the Intelligence Bureau, forwards it to the CJI for consideration by the 3-member SC collegium.

The government is yet to receive recommendations for nearly 280 vacancies from the high courts, while the rest of the names are awaiting nods from either the Supreme Court collegium or “at different levels within the government”.

“Of these, the SC has to take a call on over 40 candidates whose names were sent to the CJI,” the official revealed.

Over 75 names cleared by the SC collegium for appointment to high courts are awaiting notification by the government, he said.

An expert on judicial reforms who did not want to be named observed that a sort of lethargy seems to have set in on the appointments. “Both the sides do not adhere to any time frame for making appointments,” he said.

The number of appointments of judges to high courts fell from 126 in 2016 to 115 in 2017.

The expert said the large number of vacancies in the higher judiciary is due to the executive-judiciary disagreement that springs from the SC’s judgement of October 16, 2015, quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act as “unconstitutional and void”.

The Act passed by Parliament in the first year of the NDA government sought to replace the current system of judges appointing judges by the collegium.

On December 16, 2015, the same constitution bench of the SC that had struck down the NJAC Act, directed the government to finalise a new Memorandum of Procedure — guidelines for making appointments to the higher judiciary — in consultation with the CJI to replace the existing set of rules.

Experts said the delay in the MOP is a consequence of the two sides unable to resolve their differences and is fuelling the delay in appointments.

First Published: Feb 11, 2018 10:46 IST