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Parliamentary panel calls for social diversity in judiciary, higher retirement age of HC judges

Standing committee on personnel headed by BJP Rajya Sabha leader Sushil Kumar Modi discussed inadequate representation of SC, ST and OBC in judicial appointments, ThePrint has learnt.

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New Delhi: Amid the government’s mounting pressure on the functioning of the higher judiciary and the collegium system of appointing judges, the parliamentary panel on personnel, public grievances, law and justice headed by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha leader Sushil Kumar Modi is learnt to have called for social diversity in the appointment of judges, with adequate representation of those from the scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribes (ST) and other backward classes (OBC) in the judiciary, ThePrint has learnt.

The members of the parliamentary standing committee also batted for increasing the retirement age of judges of High Courts Thursday, from the present 62 years to 65 years, which will be at par with the retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court.

The issues came up during the meeting of the standing committee, called to hear the views of Department of Justice secretary, S.K.G. Rahate, on “judicial processes and their reform”. In addition to social diversity in the appointment of judges to the high courts and Supreme Court, subjects taken up in Thursday’s meeting included the feasibility of having regional benches of the Supreme Court.

A member of the parliamentary panel, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that currently the representation of SC, ST and OBC in the judiciary is very low.

“Figures shared by the Department of Justice with the parliamentary panel showed that of the total 537 high court judges appointed during 2018 — till 19 November that year — 424 (79 per cent) were from general category, 57 (11 per cent) were OBC, 15 (2.8 per cent) were SC, 7 (1.3 per cent) ST and 14 (2.6 per cent) were minorities. Information was not available in the case of 20 HC judges,” said the MP quoted above.

The MP, who did not want to be named, added, “This shows that right now the representation of SC, ST and OBCs in the high courts is very low. Majority of the members were of the view that the government should ensure adequate representation of SC, ST and OBC in the judiciary, though there does not exist any reservation system in the appointment of judges.”

The Department of Justice secretary, the MP added, told the members that the government did not have a role in the appointment of judges as the collegium decides on the names. “Also there is no reservation in the appointment of judges. Members said that in the collegium system, it should be looked at how the representation of SC,ST and OBC should be increased,” the MP said.

Thursday’s meeting was attended by 16 members, including committee chairman Sushil Kumar Modi, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MPs P. Wilson and A. Raja, Nationalist Congress Party’s Vandana Chavan, Trinamool Congress’ Kalyan Banerjee and BJP’s Mahesh Jethmalani.

Sources told ThePrint that issues, such as the need for judges to declare their assets — similar to the system that exists for politicians and bureaucrats — will also be taken up for discussion when the parliamentary panel meets again.

The standing committee did not discuss the collegium system, which has been under attack by the government, it was learnt.


Also read: Sharp decline in disposal, increased pendency — how pandemic affected district courts in India


Increasing retirement age of high court judges to 65 years

Members of the parliamentary panel are learnt to have favoured increasing the retirement age of high court judges and bringing it at par with the retirement age of judges in the Supreme Court. While the retirement age of high court judges is 62 years, Supreme Court judges retire at 65.

The UPA government had in 2010 introduced the Constitution (114th Amendment) bill proposing to increase the retirement age of high court judges to 65 years. But the bill could not be taken up and eventually lapsed.

“The government is not in favour of increasing the retirement age of high court judges from 62 years to 65 years,” sources privy to the development told ThePrint.

“The justice secretary was of the view that if the retirement age of high court judges is increased, there will be no attraction for lawyers to come to the Supreme Court. They will prefer to stay in high court. Good talent will not come to the Supreme Court,” the sources added.

Besides, the government feared, it will also create problems in appellate tribunals, where presently high court judges can apply after retiring at 62. “The government’s view is that if the retirement age of high court judges is increased to 65 years, there will be a shortage of qualified people at the helm in appellate tribunals. The judges in the Supreme Court will also then want their retirement age to be increased,” said the member quoted earlier.

Some of the members also spoke about how the pool of lawyers in high courts is becoming weak with more and more law students were preferring to join corporate law firms, rather than join courts.

Feasibility of having regional benches of Supreme Court

The parliamentary panel also took up the issue of feasibility of having regional benches of the Supreme Court. “This will not only clear up the backlog of cases in the Supreme Court, but will also ensure that everybody does not have to come to Delhi if they want to knock the apex court’s door,” the first member quoted earlier said. “DMK’s Rajya Sabha member P. Wilson said that there should be a regional bench of the Supreme Court for southern states,” the member added.

The justice secretary, however, informed the members that the matter is subjudice and pending in the court.

The 95th, 120th, 125th, and 229th Law Commission reports have previously recommended setting up regional benches.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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