Pick merit and not political loyalty in appointing lawyers, law commission tells govt

Lack of merit was one of the big reasons for cases dragging on for years and was adding to judicial backlog, the law commission has said.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2017 09:47 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Law commission,PMO,Counsels
Around 31 million cases are pending in the country’s various courts and the government is the litigant in 46% of these cases.(Livemint)

The Centre as well as states choose political affiliations over merit in appointing government counsels, a practice that has to be curbed to reduce judicial backlog, the law commission has said.

In a letter to the prime minister’s office, the panel has also red-flagged excessive workforce and suggested a ceiling on the number of lawyers a department can have.

“Don’t appoint 200 government counsels when you only need six, we have said,” a law commission member told HT earlier this week, adding certain states crowded their legal departments with “acolytes of the ruling party who lack legal merit and cases drag on”.

Indian judicial system is painfully slow. Around 31 million cases are pending in the country’s various courts and the government is the litigant in 46% of these cases.

Without bringing down cases involving the government, it is not possible to cut down pendency. Governments often reward political loyalty when picking lawyers to represent it in various courts.

All departments should be made to fix the number of counsels and follow the income tax department’s model of assessing their performance every six months, the commission suggested.

The recommendations, which were submitted in the last week of June and will be the basis of India’s much-awaited national litigation policy, also called for a nodal agency to save “litigation, time and process” in disputes involving government departments.

A high-powered committee of secretaries under the cabinet secretary should coordinate between different departments.

The judiciary and the government have been at loggerheads over the ever-growing mountain of pending cases. The judiciary blames poor infrastructure and vacant posts of judges for the pendency, as the two sides slug it out over the appointment procedure of senior judges, which the government says is opaque.

The litigation policy draft would soon be presented before the cabinet for approval, sources said.

The policy has been in the works for seven years, with the Centre making the first push in June 2010 but the draft drawn up by law minister Veerappa Moily didn’t make much progress.

In May this year, the PMO roped in the law commission to put together a draft that would be created from the legal perspective and not the bureaucracy’s, a minister told HT.

In disputes between departments or a department and an employee, previous judgments in similar cases should be used to grant relief rather than going for a fresh round of litigation, the commission has said.

It also said the two-month notice rule be followed before filing of cases. The provision in the code of civil procedure says a written notice be sent to the government or the official and the aggrieved party, which could be the government, another department or a citizen, wait for two months before taking up the matter in the court.

First Published: Jul 09, 2017 09:45 IST