A Parliamentary Committee, in its report, submitted to chairperson Rajya Sabha on Tuesday said the composition of the higher judiciary should reflect socio-economic diversity and inclusiveness.
It asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to give its “considered” view to the committee on matters such as social diversity statistics in appointments in the higher judiciary to provide effective representation.
The committee also flagged a large number of vacancies of judges in high courts, recording in its report that as against the approved strength of 1080 judges, only 661 were in position with 419 vacancies.
The committee also observes that appointment of high court judges has gone down from 126 in 2016 to only 66 in the year 2020, which is a decrease of 52 percent (approx.) over appointments made in the year 2016. Also there are vacancy positions of Chief Justice in four high courts.
“The committee is concerned over the non-finalization of Memorandum of Procedure between the Executive and the Judiciary, leading to delay in filling the vacancies in the high courts, which is adversely affecting administration of justice”, the report read.
It added there were 4.34 crore cases pending in the country, which included 3.77 crore in subordinate courts, 57 lakh (approx.) in high courts and 66,000 (approx.) in the Supreme Court as on 28th February 2021.
In so far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the committee said as, against the approved strength of 34 judges in the Supreme Court, only 30 judges were in position. The committee noted that in the years 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019; 4, 5, 8 and 10 judges respectively were appointed in the Supreme Court. No appointment of judges had taken place in 2020 in the Supreme Court.
“There are also instances of high rate of rejection, 40-50 percent (approximately), by the Supreme Court Collegium, the report said.
In reply to a specific question from the committee, the Department of Justice said that during the last two years i.e. 2018 and 2019, the average time taken for appointment of judges in the Supreme Court was close to 41 days and in case of the appointment of judges in high courts, it is between 5-7 months, respectively.
The committee also favoured raising the retirement age of high court judges from 62 years to 65 years.
“When judges of Supreme Court can work upto 65 years of age, there is no rationale in retiring the high court Judges at 62”, the committee said.
It also recommended a Constitution Bench to deal with constitutional and other allied issues, and four Cassation Benches be set up with the Northern zone at Delhi, Southern zone at Chennai/Hyderabad, Eastern zone at Kolkata and Western zone at Mumbai to deal with all appellate work arising out of the orders/judgments of the high courts of the particular region.