A Parliamentary Panel on Monday called for Supreme Court and High Court Collegiums to recommend an adequate number of women and candidates from SC/ST/OBC backgrounds for judicial appointments, adding that “this provision should be clearly mentioned in the Memoranda of Procedure (MoP), which is currently under finalisation”.
The report on Judicial processes and reform was tabled on Monday by the House panel on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice, headed by BJP MP Sushil Modi. In the report, the committee has made public government’s data on the social status of High Court judges appointed since 2018, remarking that this pointed to a “diversity deficit” in the higher judiciary.
This comes amid recently escalating tensions between the government and the Supreme Court over the Collegium system of appointing judges.
The panel also recommended that the government figure out a way to gather data on the social status of all currently serving Supreme Court and High Court judges, adding that the “necessary amendments may be brought in the respective Acts/service rules of the judges”, if required.
According to government data, a total of 601 judges were appointed to various High Courts from 2018 onwards. Of these, over 76% are from General caste groups, around 3% are from Scheduled Castes, around 1.5% are from Scheduled Tribes, about 12% are from Other Backward Classes, and 5.3% are from minority communities. The government data also showed that just 15% of these judges were women. The government also presented that no information was available with respect to 13 of these judges.
However, the committee noted that the government submitted a “disclaimer” with respect to this data, which said that “the veracity of the data has not been cross-checked as no caste certificate is being sought at the time of appointment”.
“The representation of SCs, STs, OBCs, Women, and Minorities in the higher judiciary is far below the desired levels and does not reflect the social diversity of the country. In recent years there has been a declining trend in representation from all the marginalized sections of Indian society,” the report said.
The committee noted that though there is no provision for reservation in judicial appointments for High Courts and the Supreme Court, adequate representation will only “further strengthen the trust, credibility, and acceptability of the Judiciary among the citizens”.
In the report, the House panel also concluded that it felt the retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts needed to be increased while citing the retirement age of judges in other countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany, etc. Currently, Supreme Court judges retire at 65 years and High Court judges retire at 62 years. The Committee noted that the retirement age had not been increased even though life expectancy had gone up. “The Committee feels that the age of retirement of judges needs to be increased in sync with the increase in the longevity and advancement in medical sciences leading to improved health of the population,” it said.
The panel, however, added that with this, “the practice of post-retirement assignments to judges of Supreme Court and High Courts in bodies/institutions financed from public exchequer may be reassessed to ensure their impartiality”.
The Committee also said that while increasing the retirement age, the Supreme Court could also consider devising an appraisal system so that the performance of judges can be reassessed from time-to-time “based on their health conditions, quality of judgements, number of judgments delivered etc.”.
Further, saying that the need of the hours is “an efficient judiciary”, the Committee went on to suggest that vacations in Supreme Court and High Courts — a “colonial legacy” — needed to be revisited, saying in its analysis, “The judiciary, therefore, needs to be sensitized from shutting down courts en masse for a couple of months a year.”
The government also submitted before the panel that it is of the view that the vacation system needed to be revised, with the panel noting that vacations are not the only reason for high pendency in the higher judiciary.
In a separate section of the report, the House panel also batted for setting up regional Benches of the Supreme Court across the country to deal with appellate matters so that the Delhi Bench could then focus on Constitutional ones.