There is a perpetual shortage of judges in India, particularly at higher levels of the judiciary, like the high courts & the Supreme Court, leading to endless delay in disposal of cases and, thus, endless misery to litigants
There is a perpetual shortage of judges in India, particularly at higher levels of the judiciary, like the high courts & the Supreme Court, leading to endless delay in disposal of cases and, thus, endless misery to litigants. There are a staggering 33 million cases pending in courts around the country - the Supreme Court (SC), high courts and the subordinate courts.
Whereas there is no shortage in civil services like the IAS, IPS, and other government services, judges are always in short supply. This is despite the fact that tens of thousands of law graduates get law degrees and a licence to practice and become “Advocates” every year. Is it that a large number of these “advocates,” who are easily given licenses to practice, do not deserve to have that license / degree or are they happy doing their legal practice and other work, and are not interested in taking-up low paid jobs of magistrates and judges in the lower courts ? If law degrees are conferred on youngsters on merit, then five to 10 years later, at least 5% to 10% should be ready and interested in entering judicial service.
If we begin in reverse order, from Supreme Court and high court judges, we find that the problem mainly lies with the respective collegiums and the central and state governments, each with its own role in the chain leading to the appointment of High Court and Supreme Court judges. Periodically, stories of nepotism, political unsuitability and so on emerge in public about these appointments. The differences between the collegiums and governments are meant to show that they are protecting their independence and ensuring the appointment of high quality and impartial judges.
It doesn’t seem to matter that keeping hundreds of HC & SC judges’ posts vacant causes huge delays in providing justice to people in day to day cases. Cases remain pending for years and decades. It has now become just a boring statistic. Neither the government nor the collegiums are ready to give up their “ownership” though they don’t mind if justice is endlessly delayed. For them, clearly, justice delayed is not justice denied.
It is difficult to understand why the process cannot be hastened and more judges appointed. At least disposal of cases will improve. In most cases, anyway, the losing parties go in for an appeal. The Supreme Court itself has said several times that it is not infallible. But matters stop at the SC. Even if a judgement is “wrong”, it is accepted as final. As leading advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi recently commented, SC judgments are not final because they are always right. They are right because they are final. Once a sufficient number of judges are appointed at the entry-level, their promotion to higher levels as Sessions and District judges can be on the basis of merit cum seniority, with the stipulation that it shall be responsibility of selection authorities to fill those posts before a vacancy arises, from whatever pool is available, like it is for IAS, IPS and other government services.
Proper training /refresher courses should be provided at different levels and unsuitable persons should be weeded out both at training levels and during service. There should be a similar approach also for judges at the HC and SC levels. The Central government and the SC collegium are continuously at loggerheads on the issue of selection of judges and they will probably never reach a compromise as long they are NOT obliged to swiftly fill up vacancies since they do not seem to really mind delays. For them justice delayed is not justice denied. If no other solution is possible, let the government and collegium fix their own quotas. The government can appoint 50% by promoting senior persons from district level and collegiums can choose the remaining 50% of judges from among the advocates.
We should remember that even in high courts, new areas of law are opening up, like jurisdictions under Article 226, election petitions under RPA, first appeals against statutory bodies like ITAT, SAT, Customs Tribunals, family law courts etc. Obviously, district judges have no experience in these jurisdictions. Equally, advocates who are appointed as judges in high courts also do not have deep knowledge in all branches of law. All of them will need to go to school.
This problem can be overcome by sending the selected recruits at different levels for a 3–6 months' crash training course in new fields of law. Despite this, if out of 700–800 judges at the high court and SC levels a few bad ones emerge, heavens will not fall. The Supreme Court itself is not infallible. The perpetual shortage of judges will end and disposal of cases will improve.
(The writer is an entrepreneur and a former legal correspondent)