Vacancies in High Courts

News: The Supreme Court has pushed for the appointment of retired judges to battle pendency of cases in High Courts. The court said retired judges could be chosen on the basis of their expertise in a particular field of dispute and allowed to retire once the pendency in that zone of law was over.

HC Vacancies

  • The total sanctioned judicial strength in the 25 High Courts is 1,080.
  • However, the present working strength is 661 with 419 vacancies as on March 1.
  • The Supreme Court has been repeatedly conveying to the government its growing alarm at the judicial vacancies in High Courts.
  • Some of these High Courts are functioning only with half their sanctioned judicial strength.
  • On average, the courts suffered at least 40% judicial vacancies.

Constitutional Procedure:

  • The appointment of ad-hoc judges was provided for in the Constitution under Article 224A.
  • Under the Article, the Chief Justice of a High Court for any State may at any time, with the previous consent of the President, request any person who has held the office of judge of that court or of any other High Court to sit and act as a judge of the High Court for that State.
  • Such a judge is entitled to such allowances as the president may determine. He will also enjoy all the jurisdiction, powers and privileges of a judge of the Supreme Court. But, he will not otherwise be deemed to be a judge of the Supreme Court.

What is the Collegium System?

  • The Collegium of judges is the Indian Supreme Court’s invention.
  • It does not figure in the Constitution, which says judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President and speaks of a process of consultation.
  • In effect, it is a system under which judges are appointed by an institution comprising judges.
  • After some judges were superseded in the appointment of the CJI in the 1970s, and attempts made subsequently to effect a mass transfer of High Court judges across the country.
  • Hence there was a perception that the independence of the judiciary was under threat. This resulted in a series of cases over the years.

The Judges Cases

  • The First Judges Case (1981) ruled that the “consultation” with the CJI in the matter of appointments must be full and effective. However, it rejected the idea that the CJI’s opinion, albeit carrying great weight, should have primacy.
  • The Second Judges Case (1993) introduced the Collegium system, holding that “consultation” really meant “concurrence”. It added that it was not the CJI’s individual opinion, but an institutional opinion formed in consultation with the two senior-most judges in the Supreme Court.
  • On a Presidential Reference for its opinion, the Supreme Court, in the Third Judges Case (1998) expanded the Collegium to a five-member body, comprising the CJI and four of his senior-most colleagues.