Two hundred and thirteen names recommended for appointment to various High Courts are pending with the government/Supreme Court Collegium, the Supreme Court said in a judicial order.
At least the names on which the Supreme Court Collegium, the High Courts and the governments had agreed upon should be appointed within six months, the order said.
“If recommendations of the High Court Collegium meet with the approval of the Supreme Court Collegium and the government, at least their appointments must take place within six months. This is not to say that in other cases the process should not be completed within six months,” a Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph said in an order dated December 6 and made available on Tuesday.
It emphasised that the appointments required “a continuous, collaborative and integrated process, where the government is an important consultee”.
The order is significant, coming at a time when inordinate delays in the appointment of High Court judges and depleting numbers in the higher judiciary threaten to affect the justice delivery mechanism.
The court has asked for a list with details of the 213 names, including when their files were forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the time taken by the Law Ministry to forward them to the PMO.
On the Supreme Court collegium clearing the recommendees, the Union Law Ministry has to put up within three weeks the recommendations to the Prime Minister who would advise the President on the appointment. However, no time limit has been prescribed for action by the Prime Minister and the President.
The Bench directed that the list, which has to be vetted by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, to also have other details of the 213 pending names, including the date when each recommendation was made by the High Court collegium concerned; date when the recommendation was forwarded to the collegium after consulting with the State government by the Law Ministry; the time period between these two dates; the date when the collegium cleared the names; the time period, etc.
The Bench observed in the order that the number of judges appointed to the High Courts has steadily dipped since 2017. Judicial appointments to High Courts have nearly halved in 2019 compared to 2017 and 2018.
Only 65 judges have been appointed to High Courts in 2019. It was 115 in 2017 and 108 in 2018.
The High Courts are functioning at nearly 50% of their sanctioned judicial strength. Of a total 1,079 judges sanctioned in the High Courts, there are 410 vacancies. Only 669 judges are working in the courts.
In 2019, only 65 judges were stated to have been appointed to the High Courts as on 2.12.2019 as against 115 in 2017 and 108 in 2018.
If the judicial strength in the High Courts continued to wither away, the Bench said, “we would have less High Court judges adoring to the Bench on January 1, 2020 than on January 1, 2018!”
The Bench, in its seven-page order, noted that the various High Courts’ collegiums were yet to send recommendations for 197 vacancies.
The Supreme Court said filling up vacancies in the subordinate judiciary while the High Courts grow thinner would only create a logjam of cases.