Need a new appointment system to fill vacancies in higher judiciary: Rijiju

Following the VP’s recent comments on the SC’s strike down of the NJAC Act, Mr. Rijuju also said that several jurists, lawyers, politicians have opined that the apex court’s decision was not correct

December 15, 2022 08:47 pm | Updated December 16, 2022 01:24 am IST - NEW DELHI

Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju arrives at Parliament House on December 15, 2022.

Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju arrives at Parliament House on December 15, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The issue of vacancies and appointments in the higher judiciary will continue to arise until a new system is created, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 2022.

The Law Minister’s comments, made while giving answers to supplementaries during the Question Hour, comes in the midst of an ongoing war of words between the government and the Supreme Court over the delay in appointments to the higher judiciary.

Asked if the government would revive the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, Mr. Rijiju said that several prominent jurists, retired judges, advocates, and leaders of political parties have opined that the striking down of the Act by a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was not correct.

The issue of the NJAC Act, which sought to replace the current Collegium system, has also been raised by Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar twice over the past 15 days.

30% vacancies

As on December 9, 777 judges are working in the High Courts against the sanctioned strength of 1,108, leaving a vacancy of 331 or 30%. To fill these vacancies, 147 proposals are at various stages of discussion between the Supreme Court Collegium and the Union government, while the names for another 184 vacancies are yet to be received by the Collegiums of various High Courts.

In a written response, the Minister said that while the government had returned 20 names back to the Collegium, it had appointed 165 judges across various High Courts, making it the highest for a calendar year.  

Speaking in the House, Mr. Rijiju said that the total number of cases pending in various courts is about to touch five crore, adding that the impact of such a huge pendency of court cases on the public was obvious.

“Currently, the government has limited powers to fill the vacancies [in courts],” he said, adding that the Centre cannot look for names other than those recommended by the Collegium.

‘New system needed’

The Law Minister said that somehow he felt that “we are not working as per the spirit of the House and feelings of the people of the country”.

“We are giving our full support to reduce pendency of cases. But questions will keep arising on vacancy of judges and appointments till we create a new system for appointments,” he added.

Mr. Rijiju also told the House that requests, both verbally and in writing, have been made to the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts to send names at the earliest for filling up the vacancies for judges.

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