A dataset on high court judges, compiled for the first time across the country, throws light on various parameters on which we can judge the judges. The dataset will especially be useful to evaluate those who make it to our higher judiciary – the high courts as well as the Supreme Court – and to fill the vacuum on their backgrounds.
What is the KHOJ dataset?
THEKHOJ dataset on High Court judges, jointly published last month by the non-profit organisation Agami, the research lab CivicDataLab and the Centre for Public Policy, Law and Good Governance at the National Law University Odisha, provides a rich treasure trove of data relating to 2,111 high court judges appointed between October 6, 1993 and May 31, 2021. The publicly available dataset, part of Agami and CivicDataLab’s Justice Hub, which is an open source platform for data related to the Indian legal and judicial system, the KHOJ dataset contains information on 43 distinct indicators related to the judges’ background information (names, place of birth, date of birth and gender, among other things), education, experience before judicial appointment, and information related to their judicial appointment (such as transfers, and appointment to the Supreme Court). All the data has been sourced from publicly accessible government sources.
Along with the dataset, a booklet containing some key findings from the dataset was also launched. Some of these findings are examined below.
What are its findings on gender representation in high courts?
The dataset validates something that has been consistently observed, flagged and commented upon – that there is an inordinately low representation of female judges in the higher judiciary in the country. According to the booklet, among 25 high courts in India, in only five have the number of female judges having served been more than ten per cent of all judges that have served at these courts between October 1993 and May 2021.
In eight high courts, less than five per cent of judges that have served in this period have been women. One of these eight is the Allahabad high court, which is by far the largest high court in the country (360 of the judges that form part of the dataset are from this high court). The Tripura high court has the ignominious distinction of never having had a female judge on its bench.
The best performing high court has been the Delhi high court, with 17.5 per cent female judges, followed closely by the Madras high court, with 16.67. These in themselves are hardly impressive numbers.
On the other hand, in eight high courts, less than five per cent of judges that have served in this period have been women. One of these eight is the Allahabad high court, which is by far the largest high court in the country (360 of the judges that form part of the dataset are from this high court). The Tripura high court has the ignominious distinction of never having had a female judge on its bench.
Among the total of 160 high court judges appointed as Chief Justices of high courts, only 11 have been women.
What are its findings on representation of judicial service cadre judges versus judges appointed from the Bar?
Well over half of all high court judges – 51.17 per cent, to be precise – were appointed directly from the Bar. The proportion of high court judges appointed by promoting judges serving in the lower courts – the ‘service cadre’ – is much lower, at 43.56 per cent (corresponding data for the remaining 5.27 per cent judges is not available).
Of the 160 judges who served as high court chief justices, only 4.38 per cent were from the service cadre, with the remaining 95.62 per cent being those appointed from the Bar.
This difference becomes starker at the top. Of the 160 judges who served as high court chief justices, only 4.38 per cent were from the service cadre, with the remaining 95.62 per cent being those appointed from the Bar.
Gleaning through the cadre data for individual high courts, it is noteworthy that the Allahabad high court is the only one that bucks the trend: 182 of its judges have been from the service cadre, and 163 from the Bar. At the Madhya Pradesh high court, the number of judges drawn from both is equal – 57. Whereas at the Gujarat high court, the number of judges from the Bar is 50, which is just two more than those drawn from the service cadre.
At all other high courts, though, the number of judges from the latter is significantly more than those from the former. Among three of the youngest high courts in the country – at Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura – not a single judge has been drawn from the service cadre.
No wonder, then, that the higher judiciary has been called a “monopoly of lawyer-judges”, and it has been observed that there is a glass ceiling in the high courts for service cadre judges.
What are its findings on transfer of judges among high courts?
As per the dataset, 157 high court judges were transferred once, 68 judges transferred twice, and only 14 transferred thrice. The remaining approximately 88 per cent of the judges were never transferred, having served through their tenures at their parent high courts.
There are some interesting trends noticeable in the dataset about transfers. As the largest high court by number of judges, the Allahabad high court expectedly has the largest number of transfers from (28) as well as to (45) among all the high courts. The second largest high court, the Karnataka high court (145 judges in the dataset are from here), on the other hand, figures extremely low in terms of both incoming and outgoing judges, at 11 and 13, respectively. This indicates that relative to other high courts, the Karnataka high court’s bench is stable, with most of the judges at the high court being those appointed by it and staying there.
On the other hand, the Punjab and Haryana high court seems to be in flux with regard to transfers. In terms of strength, the high court figures in the middle among all high courts, with 75 judges in the dataset. In terms of transfers, though, it features as the second highest among all high courts in the lists of both transfers in and out, at 20 and 25 respectively. This indicates that relative to the other high courts, a large share of the judges appointed by the Punjab and Haryana high court being transferred elsewhere, and a slightly large share of the judges having served there being those transferred from other high courts.
There is no data available about the schooling of over 75 per cent of the judges at twelve high courts, and no such data for over 50 per cent of the judges at 23 high courts.
Another interesting trend is seen in the case of the Rajasthan high court. In terms of strength, it is the seventh-lowest among the 25 high courts, with 31 judges. However, it is at the joint-fourth position in terms of most transfers to a high court, with 18 such judges. This indicates that about 58 per cent of all judges that served at the Rajasthan high court were transferred from other high courts, with only about 42 per cent of its bench comprising judges appointed by it.
What are its findings on disclosure of previous work for those judges with litigation experience?
The chamber details of only 15 per cent of judges with litigation experience are available in the public domain.
The data is no better when it comes to disclosure of private empanelment for judges with litigation experience. Such data is available for only a handful of judges for most high courts, and not available at all for judges at seven high courts – those at Gujarat, Rajasthan, Telangana, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura.
The severe lack of transparency for judges in this regard is unfortunate, as it would have been useful to shed light on potential areas of bias and conflicts of interest in relation to judges.
What are its findings on judges’ education?
There is not too much information about the school and law college of high court judges in the public domain. There is no data available about the schooling of over 75 per cent of the judges at twelve high courts, and no such data for over 50 per cent of the judges at 23 high courts. These include most of the biggest high courts in terms of strength – the high courts at Allahabad, Karnataka, Bombay and Patna. There is no data about the schooling available for any of the judges at the Rajasthan high court, and 99.39 per cent of judges at the Allahabad high court.
The only two high courts that do well in this regard are the Telangana and Meghalaya high courts, with schooling information being available for 75 per cent and 60 per cent of all their judges, respectively. It must be kept in mind, though, that these are two of the smallest five high courts in terms of strength.
There is slightly more transparency in terms of information about the law colleges attended by high court judges. In this regard, there is no data available for over 80 per cent of the judges at only two high courts – Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – and no such data available for over 50 per cent of the judges at six high courts.
On the other hand, at four high courts – those at Telangana, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Kerala – information about the law college attended by the judges is available for over 80 per cent of their judges.
Judges with a postgraduate degree in law have served at all but three high courts, as per the dataset. Chhattisgarh is an outlier in this regard, with a whopping 86.67 per cent of the judges here whose credentials are available possessing a postgraduate degree. The next-best performer in this regard is the Punjab and Haryana high court, with 34.78 such judges.
When it comes to judges with a foreign degree in law, the Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh high court is the over-performer, with one-third of its judges whose credentials are available possessing a foreign degree in law. Judges with foreign degrees in law have also served at nine more high courts, as per the publicly available data.
Click here to view the complete KHOJ ‘Know your high court judges’ booklet.