The Minister did not give any clear answer as to whether the government intends to change the collegium system.
AS many as 154 proposals regarding the appointment of judges, received from various high courts are at stages of processing between the Union Government and the Supreme Court Collegium, the Union Government informed Parliament on Thursday, adding that it has been receiving representations from diverse sources on lack of transparency, objectivity and social diversity in the collegium system of appointment of judges to the Constitutional Courts.
As on December 16, against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges, 28 judges are working at the Supreme Court, leaving six vacancies to be filled. On December 13, the Supreme Court Collegium recommended the names of five high court judges for elevation to the Supreme Court. The government is yet to clear these appointments.
Against the sanctioned strength of 1,108 judges, 775 judges are working in the high courts, leaving 333 vacancies to be filled. Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju further informed the Parliament that recommendations from High Court Collegiums are yet to be received in respect of 179 vacancies at various high courts.
“Filling up of vacancies in the High Courts is a continuous, integrated and collaborative process between the Executive and the Judiciary. Transfer and appointments of Judges of the High Courts require consultation and approval from various constitutional authorities, both at state and central level. While every effort is made to fill up the existing vacancies expeditiously, vacancies of Judges in High Courts do keep on arising on account of retirement, resignation or elevation of Judges and also due to increase in the strength of Judges”, Rijiju said in the Rajya Sabha.
Rijiju was responding to a set of questions asked by Member of Parliament Binoy Viswam on the collegium system and the appointment of judges. Viswam sought to know whether the government intends to change the current collegium system for appointing judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts; the number of pending appointments in the high courts after the collegium provided a recommendation and the details thereof; the reasons for delays in transfers and appointments of judges; and the number of vacancies in the high courts and the Supreme Court.
The Minister did not give any clear answer as to whether the government intends to change the collegium system. He, however, added that in order to make the collegium system of appointments of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts more broad-based, transparent and accountable, and bring objectivity to the system, the government brought into force the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014. But, the Minister added, both the Acts were challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered on October 16, 2015, declared both the Acts unconstitutional and void. The Collegium system, as existing prior to the enforcement of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act was declared to be operative.
Rijiju further said that representation from diverse sources on lack of transparency, objectivity and social diversity in the collegium system of appointment of judges to the Constitutional courts are received from time to time, with the request to improve this system of appointment of judges. The government has sent suggestions for supplementing the Memoranda of Procedure for the appointment of Judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court, he claimed.
From January 1, 2020, to December 19, 2022, a total of 12 judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court. In the case of high courts, 351 judges have been appointed at various high courts of the country over the same period.