NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday in principle decided to resort to the never used constitutional provision for engaging retired high court judges to tackle the huge pendency in High Courts and asked the Centre why it was sitting over 45 names recommended for appointment as High Court judges at a time when vacancies had touched 40% of the sanctioned strength.
Given the case pendency in HCs touching half a million, a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices Sanjay K Kaul and Surya Kant sought responses from HCs on framing standard operating procedures to recall retired HC judges under Article 224A of the Constitution.
The SC said the exercise (seeking responses from HCs on framing SOPs to recall retired HC judges) would be completed on April 8, the next date of hearing.
Article 224A provides, “The chief justice of an HC for any state may at any time, with the previous consent of the President, request any person who has held the office of judge of that court or of any other high court to sit and act as a judge of the high court for that state.”
The CJI-led bench said since the retired judges would be given a specific tenure to adjudicate old cases and as they would be regarded as the junior-most in the hierarchy of the HC, it would not cause any heartburn among serving judges.
“It is not that regular appointment of judges would be stalled, slowed down or substituted by resorting to Article 224A to tackle the pendency, which has gone beyond manageable limits. There are cases pending for 25 to 30 years in some HCs and causing all kinds of problems in justice dispensation. Judges who have retired after spending 15-20 years in HCs would be eminently suitable to adjudicate old cases. Once the pendency is dealt with, their tenure can come to an end,” the CJI said.
There have been precedents of recalling retired judges to work as SC judges under Article 128 of the Constitution, but that practice went into disuse after 1975. However, no retired HC judge was ever called back for another innings.
Turning its attention to the huge vacancy of 420 posts in the sanctioned strength of 1,080 judges in HCs, the bench asked attorney general K K Vengupal to explain on April 8 why the government was sitting over 45 names recommended for appointment as judges in various HCs for a period ranging from 6-14 months and not sending them to the SC collegium for scrutiny about their suitability.
Justice Kaul said the government was also sitting on 10 names, cleared by the SC collegium for appointment as HC judges, for periods ranging from 7-19 months. He said the SC collegium’s recommendation for five advocates’ appointment as judges of the Calcutta HC was sent to the government on July 25, 2019, and these were yet to be cleared. Similarly, an advocate’s name cleared for appointment as J&K HC judge has been pending for 17 months and four names for the Delhi HC cleared by the collegium have been pending for seven months with the Centre.