Govt, judiciary join hands to fill judges' vacancies

DELHI, 23/11/2013: FILE photo: Supreme Court of India. New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Monica Tiwari  

Nothwithstanding the Supreme Court’s r >ejection of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act (NJAC), the government and the judiciary have come together to resolve an immediate crisis in the justice administration – judicial vacancies.

As a signal that both branches of governance will be working together to tide over urgent issues concerning the judiciary, the Collegium led by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu has swung into action and recommended the names of 24 additional judges for extension to the government.

To a question whether this development is an indication that the government has now accepted the NJAC judgment and continuation of Collegium system even before the ink on the judgment has dried, Union Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda told The Hindu that the government cannot sit back and watch as vacancies mount in the higher judiciary, causing litigants to suffer delay in justice.

“This was only a recommendation for a six-month extension for the 24 judges. Their terms were going to expire on October 24. If nothing was done, they would have gone home. We cannot afford to do that as there are already so many vacancies,” Mr. Gowda said on Tuesday.

Legal experts say that the Law Minister's reaction to the Collegium recommendation indicates a measured shift in balance in the government approach to the disappointment caused by the NJAC judgment last week. The NJAC judgment has severely criticised the inclusion of the Law Minister as a member of the NJAC, saying this would lead to a culture of reciprocity and mutual favours.

In his blog, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had lashed out at the majority view of the NJAC Bench against the Law Minister, whom he said “ >represents a key basic structure of the Constitution”.

Mr. Jaitley had criticised how the Court had committed a “fundamental error” by painting other basic constitutional structures and the elected government as mere “politicians”.

Speaking to NDTV on Tuesday, Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu exuded confidence that the government is mature and would take the NJAC judgment in the right spirit.

“There will not be any difference of opinion between us and I don't expect that,” the CJI told NDTV.

On the verdict, he said the judgment has helped clear the air at a time when aroound 40 percent of judges' posts are vacant.

“We have recommended to the govt to make 24 additional Judges of the High Courts permanent or extend their tenure by 6 months and it is for the govt to decide either of our recommendations. These 24 Judges are to retire by the end of this month. I can't send them home and I had to take a call,” Chief Justice Dattu told the news channel. 

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