SC lays down timeline for judicial appointments in high courts

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday set a statutory timetable for the appointment of judges in the Supreme Courts, as mandated by the Union government, underscoring this “speed of action” [is] to facilitate the greater cause of timely jurisprudence ”.

The court first gave an external deadline for the center to process the names for the appointments of Supreme Court justices and announced the appointments as soon as the names were repeated by its college. While the existing Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), which governs the appointment of judicial officers, does not suggest a time period within which the Center should forward the recommendations to the College of the Supreme Court, a bank under the direction of the Supreme Justice of India, SA Bobde, did , Set 18 weeks to complete this process.

“The high courts are in a crisis situation,” said the bank, which also included Judges Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant, Justice and Government.

After breaking down the total 18-week period, the Bank took the view that it should not take more than eight weeks for the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to provide the Ministry with its contributions on the proposed names after submitting its recommendations to the Union Ministry of Justice.

After receiving submissions from the IB and the relevant state government, the center should process these names within eight to 12 weeks and send them with their comments to the College of the Supreme Court for final approval. This takes a maximum of 18 weeks.

As stated in the MoP, the CJI-led College of the Supreme Court will submit its final recommendations within the next four weeks and these recommendations will preferably be presented to the Prime Minister who will advise the President on the scheduled date.

The court has stated that in the event of a government reservation on certain recommendations, for certain reasons, those names may be sent back to the College of the Supreme Court.

However, the bank noted that if the College unanimously repeats the recommendations, “such an appointment should be processed and the appointment should be made within three to four weeks”. The current MoP also does not set a schedule for cases where the college repeats names.

The court also emphasized in its order the request of the chief judges of the 25 Supreme Courts to recommend vacancies as early as possible and as new positions emerge, regardless of whether their old recommendations were resolved or not.

By prescribing the schedule, the bank denied claims that the issue was outside the scope of judicial guidelines. It noted that the reluctance imposed by the Constitutional Bank in the Third Judge’s case (1998) related to judicial review of certain appointments rather than aspects of the appointment process such as delays.

The Apex Court ruling came at a time when the country’s Supreme Courts had a staggering vacancy of 411 judges – more than a third of the total as of April 1st. There are only 669 judges out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,080. In addition, there were no recommendations from high courts for 214 of the 411 vacancies.

During last week’s hearing on an issue of shortage of judges, the Supreme Court noted that certain recommendations had been pending with the central government since July 2019, while the government highlighted that the Supreme Courts had failed to make recommendations for around 53% of their total number vacancies, the oldest slot being created more than six years ago.

Attorney General KK Venugopal had stated by filing a memo during the trial that 86 names were pending in the government at various stages, while the College of the Supreme Court was still to decide 94 names for appointments in the Supreme Courts. The government also noted that it has not yet received a proposal for an appointment to the Supreme Court, which currently has five vacancies, the oldest being created in November 2019 following the resignation of then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

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