The government and Supreme Court are moving closer to filling the more than 400 vacancies for judges’ posts across the country’s high courts.
In the most recent legal news in India, the Supreme Court collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh Khehar, cleared the last of the 90 pending recommendations for the appointment of new judges.
The collegium also rejected 40% of the proposed names, citing the candidates’ purported lack of integrity.
The government has started the appointment process for these names cleared by the collegium. But there’s still a long way to go to fill the judicial vacuum: of the 1,079 high court posts for judges, 447 are not filled. Almost half of the 160 seats at the Allahabad High Court - India’s largest - are vacant.
Justice Khehar had personally reached out to chief justices of all 24 high courts seeking proposals to fill the gap with the best in the judicial system who upheld the highest ethical standards.
But the collegium has been at odds with the government over the pace of the appointment process. Some members felt the Centre sat on collegium’s recommendations.
Justice Khehar had previously stated a Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges had been finalized, but Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently contradicted him. However, it appears the MoP has now been put in place.
The vacancies are only one problem facing the country’s overburdened legal system. As of June 30, 2016, high courts in India faced a backlog of more than 40.5 lakh criminal and civil cases. More than 7.4 lakh cases have been pending for over a decade.
Justice Khehar had been hearing public interest litigations (PILs) on the vacancies and number of pending cases. The combined deficiency is so urgent that more than half of Supreme Court judges will keep working after the court closes for summer vacation on May 10 to address the backlog.
According to reports, the government also wants the chief justice to make sure more women judges and those from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes reach higher posts in the judiciary.
Justice Khehar is set to retire at the end of August. While he can ask the collegium to put forth names for three vacancies in the Supreme Court, it’s not known if he will. There will be a total of six vacancies in the Supreme Court by the end of the year.
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