High Courts in crisis situation with huge vacancies, says Supreme Court

Centre should appoint judges within 3-4 weeks if collegium reiterates its recommendations unanimously, it says.

Updated - April 21, 2021 10:32 pm IST

Published - April 21, 2021 10:18 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed concern over the “crisis situation” in High Courts which are grappling with 40-50% vacancies and said the Centre should appoint judges within 3-4 weeks if the collegium reiterates its recommendations unanimously.

Coming out with timelines to facilitate the process, a Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said the Centre should proceed to make appointment immediately after the Supreme Court collegium recommends the names and if the government has any reservations on the “suitability or in public interest”, it may send it back to the collegium with the specific reasons for the reservations recorded.

“If the Supreme Court collegium after consideration of the aforesaid inputs still reiterates the recommendation(s) unanimously (Cl. 24.1), such appointment should be processed and appointment should be made within three to four weeks,” said the Bench, also comprising Justices SK Kaul and Surya Kant.

Stick to timelines

The Bench said it would be ‘advisable’ to follow the timelines, in addition to those mentioned in the Memorandum of Procedure as finalised by the collegium on March 10, 2017 where certain timeframes have been stated for appointment of judges to the High Courts.

“The Intelligence Bureau [IB] should submit its report/inputs within four to six weeks from the date of recommendation of the High Court collegium, to the Central Government,” it said.

The Bench said it would be desirable that the Centre forward the files/recommendations to the Supreme Court within eight to 12 weeks from the date of receipt of views from the State government and the report/input from the IB.

“It would be for the government to thereafter proceed to make the appointment immediately on the aforesaid consideration and undoubtedly if government has any reservations on suitability or in public interest, within the same period of time it may be sent back to the Supreme Court collegium with the specific reasons for reservation recorded,” it said.

“We are conscious that the aforesaid exercise is collaborative in nature and we would expect promptness in this process to facilitate the larger cause of dispensation of timely justice,” the Bench said.

The Supreme Court noted in its order that Attorney General K K Venugopal had placed before it the appointment position in the High Courts to contend that against the sanctioned strength of 1,080 judges, 664 judges have been appointed with vacancies of 416 judges.

“However, the recommendations received and under process with the government are 196 leaving 220 recommendations to be received,” the Bench noted.

Role of High Court Chief Justices

“The High Courts are in a crisis situation. There are almost 40% vacancies in the High Courts, with many of the larger High Courts working under 50% of their sanctioned strength,” it said.

The Bench emphasised on the importance of the Chief Justices of High Courts making recommendations in time.

“The vacancies are known and the norms permit making recommendations up to six months in advance,” it said.

However, even recommendations for 220 existing vacancies appear not to have been made much less for vacancies which are going to arise in the next six months, the Bench said.

“We, thus, again, emphasise the requirement and desirability of the Chief Justices of the High Courts, who will make endeavour to recommend vacancies as early as possible even if they are not made at one go,” it said.

The top court said even in earlier orders, it had noted the “apparent hesitation” of some High Courts to recommend names when the earlier list is in the pipeline.

“We have opined that there is no such impediment to initiate a new process without waiting for the result of the earlier recommendations,” it said.

The Bench noted that in the earlier proceedings, it had handed over to the Attorney General a chart of 45 names recommended from High Courts which were still pending with the government for over six months.

Progress in recent weeks

It, however, said the last couple of weeks has seen progress in this behalf and those names have reached the collegium.

“The second was the list of old proposals in pipeline pending with the government of India after the Supreme Court collegium recommendations numbering 10. These have been pending for considerable period of time. On the last date of hearing, the Attorney General had made a statement that a decision would be taken in this behalf within the next three months,” it said.

The Bench said six names reiterated by the collegium a second time, are also awaiting appointment.

It said the Attorney General did not differ with the requirement of time bound schedule for filling the vacancies at every stage, though he emphasised that trigger for filling up of the vacancies is the recommendations made by the Chief Justices of High Courts.

“However, once the recommendations are made, there are two stages at which the matter rests with the government — the first when the Ministry processes the names; and the second post the collegium of the Supreme Court taking a call in recommending such of the names as are approved by the collegium,” the bench said.

“In s ofar as the judiciary is concerned, the second stage after the recommendations are made by the collegium of the High Courts is the time period taken by the collegium of the Supreme Court in consulting the consultee judge(s) to take a call on those name,” it said.

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