SC refuses govt. plea to stop hearing on judicial vacancies
G.S Paper 2: Indian Polity
The Supreme Court refused to accept a plea from the Center to stop hearing a batch of writ petitions on the large number of judicial vacancies in High Courts across the country.
The Court remarked that the petitioner is projecting the cause of the judiciary and we cannot run away from our own cause. But on the petitioner seeking increase in the sanctioned strength of judiciary, the court agreed with the government that existing vacancies should be filled first.
Center’s stand on the delay in judicial appointments:
- The Supreme Court should deal with the delay in judicial appointments in High Courts on its administrative side and not lend its judicial weight to public interest petitions filed by individuals to begin a parallel proceeding in this regard.
- Problems on delay would end if the draft Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) was finalized which is pending for the last six months.
- Central government will work together with the Supreme court to resolve all issues.
Earlier Chief Justice Thakur had accused the government of trying to decimate judiciary and lock justice out. The Union government did not keep its promise, that filling up judicial vacancies is its topmost priority, and accused the government of trying to starve the cause of justice by not appointing judges and locking courtrooms.
He also remarked that the court does not want a situation where institutions clash.
Issue of judicial vacancies:
As per the data released by the Ministry of Law and Justice regarding existing vacancies in various high courts, 24 high courts were functioning with just 609 judges out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges. It meant that almost 45 per cent of the positions are vacant.
The result is disastrous. The number of pending cases in high courts as on 31 December 2014 was 31,16,492 civil cases and 10,37,465 criminal cases. Though the pendency is due to several factors, the absence of almost half of the sanctioned strength is a major contributory factor.
The point of contention is who will have the final veto in the appointment of judges — the executive or the judiciary?
The collegium system provided the supreme court with exclusive powers over judicial appointments. The executive came out with the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, to scrap the collegium system of appointment of judges. The Supreme Court struck down the NJAC Act and the 99th Constitution Amendment Act in Oct 2015.
In a decision on Nov 2015, the court agreed that the government will draft a revised Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges. The revised MoP has become a bone of contention. The executive has incorporated a clause in the revised version to retain for itself the power to reject names recommended by the Supreme court collegium on the grounds of national security.