Appointment of judges:  Union Law Minister says Government is committed to fill up vacancies expeditiously, but the HC Collegiums have to take the initiative

THE Union Government on Thursday informed Parliament that there are 387 vacancies of judges lying vacant in the high courts against the total sanctioned strength of 1104 judges. Currently, a total of 717 judges are in position. It added that against 387 vacancies, 168 proposals are at various stages of processing between the Government and the Supreme Court Collegium. Besides, Parliament was told that the recommendations from High Court Collegiums are yet to be received in respect of 219 vacancies in High Courts.

The information was shared by Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju in response to a Parliamentary question raised by BJP’s Member of Parliament[MP] in Rajya Sabha T.G. Venkatesh.

The Minister also informed Parliament that the Judges of various High Courts are appointed as per the procedure laid down in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) prepared in 1998 pursuant to the Supreme Court Judgment of October 6, 1993 (Second Judges case) read with their Advisory Opinion of October 28, 1998 (Third Judges case).

“As per MoP, initiation of proposal for appointment of Judges in the High Courts vests with the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court. Chief Justice of the High Court is required to initiate the proposal to fill up of vacancy of a High Court Judge six months prior to the occurrence of vacancy. While filling up of vacancies in the High Courts is a continuous, integrated and collaborative process requiring consultation and approval from various constitutional authorities, vacancies keep on arising on account of retirement, resignation or elevation of Judges. Government is committed to fill up vacancies expeditiously in a time-bound manner”, Rijiju said in Upper House.

In response to questions raised by BJP MP Kirodi Lal Meena, the Minister informed that from May 1, 2014, to March 17, 2022, a total of 44 judges were appointed in Supreme Court. 710 new judges were appointed and 588 additional judges were made permanent in the High Courts. The sanctioned strength of judges of High Courts has been increased from 906 in May 2014 to 1,104 currently, the Minister added.

With regard to the sanctioned and working strength of judicial officers in District and Subordinate Courts, the Minister, said it has increased since 2013. He said on December 31, 2013, the sanctioned strength of judges in district and subordinate court were 19,518, while only 15, 115 were working against the sanctions posts. On April 4, 2022, the sanctioned strength is 24,521, and while only 19,341 are working.

Rijiju said the filling up of vacancies in the subordinate judiciary falls within the domain of the State Governments and High Courts concerned.

On April 1, the Minister while responding to questions on the women’s representation in the high courts, said that the onus to provide social diversity and representation to all sections of the society including Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes, Women, and Minorities primarily falls on the Judiciary.

“Government cannot appoint any person as a High Court Judge who is not recommended by the High Court Collegium/Supreme Court Collegium”, the Minister said. He however added that his Government remains committed to social diversity in the appointment of Judges in the Higher Judiciary and has been requesting the Chief Justices of High Courts that while sending proposals for the appointment of Judges, due consideration be given to suitable candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and Women to ensure social diversity in appointment of Judges in High Courts.

He also disclosed that from January 1, 2021, to March 3, 2022, Supreme Court Collegium has recommended 39 women for appointment as High Court Judges, out of which 27 women were appointed and the remaining 12 cases are under various stages of processing.