Judiciary is losing talent as government sits on names: Supreme Court

70 High Court Collegium recommendations are pending for over 10 months, says Justice Kaul; he adds that the Centre continues to segregate names despite the Collegium forbidding the practice

Updated - September 26, 2023 11:07 pm IST

Published - September 26, 2023 01:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Representational image of a judge’s gavel.

Representational image of a judge’s gavel. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Supreme Court said the judiciary is losing fresh talent like never before as prospective candidates shortlisted for judgeships in High Courts give up as months tick by without a decision from the government.

Many a “bright” legal mind, willing to sacrifice their law practice to join the Bench, have fallen victim to segregation of names by the government, who seemingly prefer one name over the other for unknown reasons, a Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted.

“People are declining to come. We try, we endeavour to get the best talent. The Bench has lost good talent because of segregation. They drop out, withdraw… I do not want to take any names, but we lost one or two very good people after they withdrew,” Justice Kaul addressed Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar and advocate Amit Pai, appearing for the petitioner, Advocates Association of Bengaluru, said “segregation of certain names out of a list provided by the Collegiums to the government is very, very embarrassing”.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan said government continues to segregate names with impunity despite the Collegium forbidding the practice. “The Collegium has said ‘no more’, but yet it goes on,” Mr. Bhushan said.

‘Time to crack the whip’

He said it was time for the court to “crack the whip and haul someone up for contempt”. “It cannot go on like this,” Mr. Bhushan urged.

Justice Kaul drew the Attorney General’s attention to 70 names, recommended for judgeships by the High Court Collegiums, which have been pending with the government for over 10 months, since November 2022.

“Seventy posts of High Court judges lie vacant… Once you receive the recommendations of the High Court Collegium, you have to do some basic processing and forward it to the Supreme Court Collegium. You have not done even that. If your view about them is known, we [Supreme Court Collegium] would take a call… You are not doing that… There is a time frame fixed — approximately four or five months,” Justice Kaul, who is a member of the top court Collegium, told the government side.

He said there was no word from the government on 26 transfers recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium. Nine fresh recommendations made by the Collegium for appointments to High Courts have neither been acted on nor returned to the Collegium by the government.

The fate of seven other names reiterated by the Collegium for appointment to various High Court lie pending with the government in a fog of uncertainty. The Memorandum of Procedure requires the government to appoint names reiterated by the Collegium without further delay.

Attorney General seeks week’s time

Mr. Venkataramani has asked for a week’s time to enquire about their status.

The Collegium recommendation for the appointment of a Chief Justice to a very sensitive court is pending, Justice Kaul said. He was referring to the Collegium’s recommendation to the government to appoint Delhi High Court judge, Justice Siddharth Mridul, as the Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court.

“I will take up this case every 10 days until you tell me what happened to these names … I am not saying much today because the Attorney asked for time. But next time, I will say a lot,” Justice Kaul said.

The court gave the Attorney General time till October 9, the next date of hearing, to coax the government into action on pending judicial appointments and transfers.

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