The writ petition was filed to activate Article 224A of the Indian Constitution for the appointment of ad hoc Judges to deal with the unprecedented situation arising due to backlog pending cases in the High Courts.
Article 224 of the Indian Constitution deals with the appointment of acting and additional judges in the courts. The primary objective of this article was to take care of a temporary increase in the business of the High Court. The articles begin with a non-obstante clause which states that a request can be made to any person who has held the office of a Judge of High Court to sit and act as a High Court Judge for the state. Secondly, while sitting and acting as a judge, he shall be entitled to allowances as the President may determine by order and shall have all the powers, privileges and jurisdiction of the High Court Judge, but for other purposes shall not be deemed to be a High court Judge. The consent of the concerned Judge has to be obtained as stipulated by the proviso. The petitioner in the present PIL stated that a large number of vacancies of the High Court Judges coupled with ascending arrears is a scenario that requires immediate attention. One of the methods to deal with these aspects or situations is resorting to Article 224A of the Indian Constitution.
ARGUMENTS BEFORE THE COURT
The petitioners started with the historical perspective of the Article where they stated that the Article was first numbered as Article 200 in the Draft Constitution and discussed by the Constitution Assembly on 7th June 1949. The petitioner further discussed the judicial views relating to the Article using judicial precedents which dealt with the issue of entitlement of allowance of such an ad hoc judge, consent of a retired judge, elaborate interpretation of Article 244A etc. The challenges before the judiciary were further discussed by the petitioner stating that it is difficult to adjudicate within a reasonable period of time. The number of vacancies is barely filled by fresh appointments every year. As per the data drawn from National Judicial Data Grid, five High Courts alone are responsible for 54% of the pendency of around 57,51,312 cases. The primary purpose of appointing ad hoc Judges is to deal with the cases that have been pending for over five years. Based on all the issues and two questions mainly arose, firstly, how to make the process more efficacious? and secondly, till the vacancies are filled up, what is it that can support a quicker adjudicatory process? It was observed the latter requires more number of judges and thus the present debate has arisen for the purpose of utilization of Article 224A of the Indian Constitution to appoint ad hoc judges in the context of a large number of existing vacancies and pending arrears.
The AGI (Attorney General of India) on the other hand pleaded that appointment of retired Judges under Article 224A is a collaborative process between the Executive and the Judiciary. Therefore, it should not be examined on the judicial side.
Based on all the issues relating to case arrears put forth by the petitioners, the court observed the guidelines issued in the PIL. Firstly, the trigger points for activation such as the powers conferred under the provision must be exercised in a transparent manner. Secondly, embargo situation where the recommendations should have been made leaving not more than 20% vacancies in order to take recourse to Article 224A. Thirdly, as the main objective of the article is to clear the backlog, past performance of judges in both quality and quantum of disposal of cases should be factored in for selection. The fourth guideline was the time to complete the process where a Chief Justice should start the process three months in advance for such an appointment. It was also stated that due to the nature of the profile and work to be carried out by ad hoc Judges, it’s not permissible for an ad hoc Judge to perform any other legal work whether it be advisory of arbitration or appearance.
The Bench directed that the Intelligence Bureau must submit its report within 4-6 weeks from the recommendation date of the High Court collegium to the Centre. The court also held the Centre to forward recommendations to the Supreme Court within 8-12 weeks from the date of receipt of views from the state government and Intelligence Bureau report. The Court based on the requirements of a continuous mandamus to see how a beginning has been made listed a calling upon the Ministry of Justice to file a report in respect of the progress made after four months.
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