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Parliamentary Standing Committee bats for Regional Supreme Court Benches, diversity in appointments, raising Judges’ retirement age

The 107th Report on Demands for Grants 2021-22 pertaining to the Ministry of Law and Justice was tabled in the Parliament on Tuesday.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee constituted to scrutinise the policies and performance of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice vis-à-vis the expenditure made out of Consolidated Fund of India in the current Financial Year tabled its report on March 16.

The report made various recommendations for the Government’s consideration including setting up regional Benches of the Supreme Court and raising retirement age of High Court judges.

The 107th Report on Demands for Grants 2021-22 pertaining to the Ministry of Law and Justice was prepared by a Committee comprising of Bhupendar Yadav, Member of Parliament (MP) and Senior Advocate as its chairman and 27 other MPs as its members, including Senior Advocates Vivek Tankha and P Wilson.

Here are some of the highlights of the recommendations made by the Committee

On Judicial Vacancies

The Committee took note of data given by the Justice Department on the number of vacancies in the High Courts and the Supreme Court, as well as pending proposals to fill these vacancies.

“… as against 419 vacancies in the High Courts, 208 recommendations were received by the Department and 211 recommendations are yet to be received from High Courts Collegiums,” the report said.

It further recorded that out of the total 208 proposals received by the Department of Justice:

  • 92 proposals (44.23 per cent) are with the Supreme Court Collegium;
  • 116 proposals (55.76 per cent) are with the Department of Justice for examination.

Further, out of the total of 116 proposals pending with the Government:

  • 48 proposals (41.37 per cent) are pending due to non-receipt of IB Report,
  • 31 proposals (26.72 per cent) are due to awaiting views of State Government,
  • 34 proposals (29.31 per cent) are pending due to examination of the proposals recommended by the Supreme Court by the Government.

The Committee expressed concern that:

  • There was no improvement in appointment of High Court Judges in the last one year and instead the vacancy positions have increased from 37 to 39 per cent.
  • The appointment of High Court judges has gone down from 126 in 2016 to only 66 in the year 2020, which is a decrease of 52 percent (approx.) over the appointments made in the year 2016.
  • There are vacancy positions of Chief Justice in 4 High Courts.
  • The Memorandum of Procedure between the Executive and the Judiciary is yet to be finalised, leading to delay in filling the vacancies in the High Courts, which is adversely affecting the administration of justice.
  • In the Supreme Court of India and High Courts, 12 per cent (approx.) and 39 per cent (approx.) posts of Judges, respectively are vacant. The highest numbers of judges’ vacancies are in the High Court of Allahabad (64), Calcutta (40), Punjab and Haryana (37), Delhi (31), Patna (31) and Bombay (30).

Existing vacancy positions of judges need to be filled up immediately and the vacancies arising in future should be filled strictly as per the extant guidelines, the Committee said.

Increase retirement age for Judges, number of working days to tackle case pendency

In discussing the huge case pendency before courts, the Committee’s members also opined:

  • The issue of huge case pendency at all levels of the judicial hierarchy can be dealt with by increasing the number of working days for judges.
  • The age of retirement for High Courts judges be raised from 62 to 65 years so that there is a uniform age of retirement in both Supreme Court and High Courts.

Diversity in Judicial Appointments

The Committee opined that the composition of the higher judiciary should reflect socio-economic diversity and inclusiveness. It has asked the government to submit its views to the Committee on the issue.

Expedite establishment of Fast Track Courts

It was noted that as against a target of 1,023 Fast Track Special Courts (FTSC), only 609 FTSCs are functional as on December 31, 2020, leading to a shortfall of over 40 per cent (approx.) FSTCs.

The Committee, therefore, recommended the government to expedite the establishment of the remaining FTSCs.

E-Court projects

The Committee opined that the true potential of e-Courts project is yet to be realized. It, therefore, recommended the use of advanced technologies, particularly Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence technology, to supplement the judicial process and help in reducing judicial delays. A status report on this issue was also sought from the government.

Regional Benches of Supreme Court

The 18th Law Commission, in its 229th report, had recommended for a Constitution Bench to deal with constitutional and other allied issues, and four Cassation Benches be set up in Northern zone at Delhi, Southern zone at Chennai/Hyderabad, Eastern zone at Kolkata and Western zone at Mumbai to deal with all appellate work, the Committee noted.

The Committee added that it has also recommended time and again for setting up Benches of the Supreme Court in other parts of the country to provide justice to the poor, for whom it is impossible to visit the national capital.

“… it is not possible for the people living in far-flung and remote areas to come to the National Capital for seeking justice for various reasons”, report stated further.

The Committee has now directed the Government to submit its considered view on the matter for its consideration.

Push for translation of laws into regional languages

The Committee observed that there was a slow progress in the last year when it comes to translation of the Constitution and Central Government Acts in all Scheduled Languages. In a country marked with linguistic diversities and unequal acquaintance with Hindi and English languages, non-translation of the Constitution and Central Government Acts into scheduled languages is undesirable, the Committee added. This would deprive citizens of equal access to laws, rules and regulations. Therefore, it has recommended the evolution of a suitable mechanism to expedite such translation.

Repeal of obsolete laws

1,486 obsolete and redundant laws have been repealed by the Government of India from 2014 to February 4, 2021, it was noted. The Committee recommended that this effort be carried forward and that the Government should review and scrutinize laws that no longer serve their purpose from time to time. The Committee also recommended that the Department may explore including a “sunset clause” in all the proposed legislation.

One Nation One Vote favoured

Having continuous elections around the year, whether it is for local bodies, State Assemblies or Lok Sabha, puts a big strain on the state machinery, the Committee report states, adding that “Our country remains in election mode throughout the year.”

  • It has opined that holding simultaneous elections will
  • reduce the burden on the exchequer, expenditure of political parties
  • will ensure that human resources are optimally utilise
  • will reduce voters apathy of frequent elections
  • will enthuse the general population and voters in particular, which will ultimately enhance voters participation in the electoral process.

It was also noted that the idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ or simultaneous election is not new to India as the first three General Elections held in 1952, 1957 and 1962 were held simultaneously.

The Committee, therefore, recommended amendment of the Constitution so that there are fixed terms for local bodies, legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha so that simultaneous elections can be held.

On a related note, the Committee also expressed that it is in favour of common Electoral Rolls. The report stated that it is good for democratic health, would lessen the burden on the exchequer, would purify voters’ lists and help in realising simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies and Local Bodies.

On Law officers’ appointments

Concern was expressed that out of total 25 High Courts in the country, Additional Solicitors General of India are engaged in only 12 High Courts.

It also noted that 42 counsel in the Supreme Court and 1,097 Advocates have been empanelled across the country for Central Government litigation. However, no criteria/methodology is there to project the required number of panel counsel for a Court/ Tribunal. The Committee, opined that the Government needs to devise an objective methodology for projecting the required number of panel counsels/advocates for each High Court/Tribunal in the country.

BCI “tight-lipped” on legal education regulation, not answering Committee’s queries on audited accounts

The Committee recorded that the Bar Council of India (BCI) has not responded to its queries about the total number of Government/ autonomous /private law colleges recognized by BCI in the last 15 years along with the details of de-recognized law institutes/universities, if any. The Committee remarked that it is expected that this information be readily available with the BCI.

The Committee also expressed dismay that the BCI has not shared information on audited income and expenditure statements, audited Reports, etc., which is mandated as per the Advocates Act 1961.

The Committee opined that BCI should opt for a more flexible system, including online and blended mode, while deciding about the timing and venue of conducting law classes. It was noted that the BCI has also remained tight-lipped on the issue of regulation of legal education.

“The Committee desires that the Department should submit a status note after taking inputs from the Bar Council of India”, the report recommended.

Law Commission of India vacancies to be filled

The Committee noted that the positions of the Chairperson and Members of the 22nd Law Commission are still vacant, even after one year of its constitution. It recommended that the Government expedite the appointment process.

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