NEW DELHI: If names recommended by high court collegiums are not found to be fit enough to be made judges then the law ministry cannot be held responsible for delays, law minister Kiren Rijiju said while calling for a wider representation of women in the higher judiciary.
Speaking exclusively to TOI about large vacancies in various HCs and the time lag between each set of recommendations and appointments, the law minister said that if the vacancies in the HCs are examined it could be seen they are not pending with the government. “Either they are in the process or with the Supreme Court collegium,” he explained. As on October 1, the 25 HCs in the country had 471 posts of judges vacant.
As per laid down procedure, after recommendations are made by an HC collegium, comprising the chief justice and two seniormost judges of the HC concerned, the file goes to the law ministry with a copy to the SC collegium. On every new appointment of an HC judge, the law ministry conducts a mandatory verification through the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to know the person’s antecedents and reputation in the Bar and society. This assessment is shared with the SC.
Rijiju said the delays are often for circumstantial reasons, but clearance of files has picked up pace and is being done in the right spirit, much faster now. He, however, said that both the SC collegium and the government are on the same page to fill the sanctioned strength in HCs. “We are working with the SC collegium on appointments and clearing files as fast as possible,” he said.
The minister appreciated the efforts made by CJI N V Ramana and said that the government has “complete understanding” with the SC collegium to move faster on appointments. There are around 200 recommendations currently in various stages of being processed.
The minister’s comments are significant considering that the CJI had recently expressed concern at the delay in processing files recommended by the apex court collegium. Justice Ramana had specifically asked the minister to look into delays and clear all pending recommendations.
The IB report on candidates is followed by a due diligence at the law ministry on professional capabilities besides checks on other eligibility criteria, including minimum annual income and age requirement. On completion of the verification, the report with the files are sent to the SC collegium for its approval. On an average, up to 50% of recommendations are sent back to HC collegium for reconsideration after due diligence by both the government and the SC collegium.
Rijiju also pointed out that the judiciary must consider giving wider representation to women and the weaker sections of society. While some states have given up to 35% reservation for women in the lower judiciary, there is no such quota in the higher judiciary. A 2016 report of the ministry had found that the representation of women in the judiciary was below 28% in the subordinate courts and less than 12% in the higher judiciary.
On huge pendency in courts, the minister said it is time that justice is provided at the doorstep. “The process of giving justice to the poor must be faster and easier,” the minister said while referring to justice on wheel schemes initiated by the high courts of Uttarakhand and some others.