“Criminal…. A hoax…. A malicious joke…. Unbelievable….” Whatever be your initial reaction, it's a hard fact of numbers. Yes, only one out of 518 lawyers who appeared for a written test conducted by the Karnataka High Court for direct recruitment of district judges has cleared it.
The results have startled the legal fraternity which is wondering whether meritorious and qualified lawyers are wary of joining judicial service or whether there is a decline in the quality of lawyers.
The test was conducted to fill 13 vacancies of district judges under the Karnataka Judicial Officers (Recruitment) Rules. Advocates with a minimum of seven years of legal practice were eligible to apply. A committee comprising senior judges of the High Court set the question paper and evaluated the answer scripts.
To become eligible for the personality test ( viva-voce ), a candidate was expected to secure a minimum of 50 per cent (75 marks) in both the civil and criminal law papers which had 150 marks each. However, only 12 candidates secured between 75 and 101 marks in civil law and only one crossed 75 in criminal law. A few even scored zero, and many secured only single-digit marks in criminal law.
“Such a poor result is the first in the recent past as far as I know,” remarked a retired High Court judge.
Former Advocate-General Uday Holla described the results as “a sad reflection on the Bar”. He, however, said meritorious graduates, particularly from prominent law schools, might not be showing interest in joining either the Bar (law practice) or the Bench (judiciary). They appeared more attracted to corporate jobs.
A few senior lawyers, former Advocates-General, and a retired High Court judge said the results were a reflection of the knowledge of lawyers who appeared for the test.
“Younger lawyers are not spending time on reading after they start practice and this results in a decline in the standards of legal profession,” said a retired High Court judge, while insisting that the court should also make the examination process completely transparent, providing the candidates copies of answer scripts.
Additional Advocate-General K. M. Nataraj said both the Bar and the Bench must take the results seriously. “The Bar Council has to take some steps to ensure that good lawyers are motivated to join subordinate judiciary. We need to relook the process and norms of selection too.”
Bangalore Advocates' Association president K. N. Putte Gowda said maybe there was lack of preparation by the candidates. Also, a good number of talented advocates were not keen on joining the judiciary due to lower promotion opportunities.