SC: Prior Experience at the Bar Does Not Make a Judicial Officer Eligible to Be Elevated as a High Court Judge

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A Full Bench comprising of Justice S.A Bobde, Justice A.S Bopanna, and Justice V. Ramasubramanian held that the judicial officers cannot club their experience as an advocate for being eligible for promotion as a judge of the High Courts.

Brief Facts of the Case

Petitioners and Respondents were appointed as District Judges of Tamil Nadu by direct recruitment via a government order in 2011. Article 217(2)(a) prescribes completion of 10 years for elevation to the High Court as Judges. Thus, the parties in the case have not completed 10 years of service as Judicial Officers, as on date. 

But at the time of their appointment as District Judges, the Petitioner Nos. 1 to 6 had already practised for more than 10 years as advocates. Petitioner No. 7 had practised as an advocate for 9 years and 10 months. Petitioner No. 8 had practised for 8 years and 6 months.

The grievance raised by the Petitioners is that despite being the senior-most in the cadre of District Judges, they have been overlooked. Instead of them, their juniors were recommended for elevation to the High Court as Judges. The interpretation of Article 217(2) is under question.

Arguments in the Court

To determine the eligibility of a person to be a High Court Judge, Article 217(2)(a) and Article 217(2)(b) together with Explanations (a) and (aa) should be applied . Thereby, the experience gained as advocates before the service rendered by them as Judicial Officers should be clubbed together.

Interpretation of Explanation (a) that only a person who resigned from judicial service and became an Advocate will be eligible to club both the periods will be unfair. It will be hostile discrimination of Judicial Officers, offending Article 14.

Court’s Observations

Article 217(2)(a) and 217(2)(b) for the appointment of High Court judges, have an “or” clause between them. It denotes that experience of 10 years in the Judicial Office (as Judges) or 10 years as an advocate in the High Court. 

The second part of clause 2 of Article 217 is stated as explanations (a) and (aa). Explanation (a) is to be read with 217(2)(a) alone. The explanation states that the experience as an advocate in the High Court is to be “after” the service as a judicial officer. 

The Bench explained that this rule of interpretation does not allow for the experience had at the Bar as advocates, before joining judicial service.

If any of the petitioners stop to be Judicial Officers and become Advocates, they may be eligible to be considered against the quota intended for the Bar under Article 217(2)(b). But while continuing as Judicial Officers, Explanation (a) cannot be invoked. It applies only to those who have become advocates after having held a judicial office as under Article 217(2)(a).

Article 217(2) does not guarantee anyone with the “right to be appointed” as a judge of the High Court. The contention of the application of Article 14 does not arise.

Court’s Decision

The eligibility of appointment as a High Court judge does not club the experience as an advocate before the service as a Judge in the Subordinate Courts.


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