With over 5.8 million cases clogging the 25 High Courts across the country, the higher judiciary faces a daunting task of clearing the backlog.
Speaking at a foundation-stone laying ceremony at the Madras High Court recently, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana observed that inadequate judge strength was one of the main reasons for delay in disposal of cases and stressed on filling up all judicial vacancies and increasing the sanctioned strength of judges. He said it was necessary to reduce the case load per judge and improve the judge-to-population ratio.
The latest data released by the Department of Justice state that the 25 High Courts have a combined sanctioned strength of 1,104 judges. As on April 1, 2022, the working strength of judges stood at 717 while 387 seats were vacant.
This means there are only 717 judges for a whopping 58, 92,399 cases pending adjudication. Last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 17,76,672 new cases were added to the load, roughly translating to three new cases each minute.
The existing backlog of cases cannot be tackled without additional strength of judges. The delay in disposal of cases creates disillusionment among litigants and undermines the capability of the judicial system to impart justice in an efficient and effective manner.
Chief Justice of India Ramana, who resumed office a year ago, has made it a priority to fill judicial vacancies. “My first communication to the Chief Justices of the High Courts was to request them to expedite the process of recommending names for elevation,” Chief Justice Ramana said at the Madras High Court event.
“With collective efforts at all levels, we can make considerable progress in filling up the judicial vacancies. After assuming office, I made 180 recommendations for appointments in High Courts, of which 126 were done and 54 are awaiting government approval,” he said.
“The government has received nearly 100 proposals from various High Courts, which are yet to be forwarded to the Supreme Court,” he added and hoped the process of sending the proposals would be expedited.
High Court with high vacancies
According to the Department of Justice, the Allahabad High Court tops in number of vacancies with 66 out of the sanctioned 160 filled up. The Allahabad High Court currently has 10,28,451 cases pending adjudication.
The Bombay High Court comes next with 37 vacancies for judges against a sanctioned strength of 94. Several High Courts including the Delhi High Court, Calcutta High Court, Punjab & Haryana High Court, and Patna High Court have over 40% vacancy rates. The Patna High Court has the highest vacancy rate at 49% with 26 seats vacant over a sanctioned strength of 53.
Only Sikkim High Court and Tripura High Court have zero vacancy.
Lengthy appointment process
High Court judges are appointed by the President under Article 217 of the Constitution after the appointment proposal is initiated by the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court.
It is required of the Chief Justice to consult two senior-most colleagues before forwarding the recommendation. All consultations are noted in writing and sent along with the recommendations to the Chief Ministers of the respective States.
If the Chief Minister desires to recommend any person for the post, he forwards the name to the Chief Justice for consideration. A copy of the Chief Justice’s proposal, with complete set of papers is simultaneously sent to the Governor to avoid delay. A copy is also sent to the Chief Justice of India and the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs to expedite the entire process. The Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs considers the recommendations in the light of other reports (including intelligence report) available with the government.
The complete material is next forwarded to the Chief Justice of India for advice, who then consults two senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court to make a choice and forward the recommendation to the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, within a month.
The Minister then puts up CJI’s recommendation (within three weeks), to the Prime Minister, who advises the President in the matter of appointment preferably, within another three weeks. Once the President approves it, the announcement is made and necessary notification in the Gazette of India gets issued.