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The Supreme Court recently said that judicial and legal services are missions for serving society and the mission is not achieved if the litigant has to wait in queue for a long time. Recognising that vacancies in the lower judiciary are an important reason for such long waits, it laid out timeframes for recruitments to these posts. Now, a study by New Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has found that the SC timeframe is not followed in a majority of cases. The study also found that 2.5 crore cases are pending across the states as nearly 23 per cent of posts in the lower judiciary, the first contact for a majority of litigants, remain vacant.
The average recruitment cycle, calculated for 18 states over 10 years, is 326.7 days for a three-tier recruitment process of civil judges (junior division). This is much longer than the SC-prescribed limit of 273 days.
States that follow a two-tier recruitment system take 196.3 days on average to complete one cycle to appoint district judges. Amongst states that follow a three-tier system, a complete recruitment cycle takes on average 335.9 days. Both figures exceed the SC-prescribed limit of 153 days and 273 days, respectively.
The Vidhi Centre study comes against the backdrop of the Supreme Court initiating a suo motu public interest litigation, based on a letter from the law ministry to the SC secretary general in May this year. The letter proposed creating a central selection mechanism for the appointment of subordinate judges across the country.
The report observed “exams are not conducted frequently enough to fill vacancies as they arise and even when they are, high courts are often unable to find enough meritorious candidates”.
The Vidhi Centre has based its study on data (2007-2017) from recruitment-related notifications on the website of each high court and Public Service Commission, notifications announcing preliminary tests, main examinations, interviews and the final merit list.
Data from 20 states on appointment of civil judges (junior division-direct recruitment) reveal that Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Punjab were the top-ranking states while Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur and Delhi were ranked the lowest. The report ranked appointment processes for district judges (direct recruitment), relying on data from 15 states. Amongst them, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal were ranked the highest while Assam and Bihar were ranked the lowest.
In its order, the SC had said: “Speedy trial is a part of reasonable, fair and just procedure guaranteed under Article 21. This Constitutional right cannot be denied even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources. The court is entitled to issue directions to augment and strengthen investigating machinery, setting-up of new courts, building new court houses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, appointment of additional judges and other measures as are necessary for speedy trial”.