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Thursday, June 1, 2023

‘Overwhelming pendency’: SC paves way for ad hoc judges in HCs

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the overwhelming pendency of around 57 lakh cases and existing vacancies, requires the appointment of ad hoc judges, up to a maximum of five, in each of the 25 High Courts to clear the massive backlog.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said: “It is trite to say that we have a docket explosion in our country and that it is difficult for adjudication to take place within a reasonable period of time. This crisis situation must be tackled. Some innovation is always the rule of the game.”

On the role of ad hoc judges, the bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant, noted the primary objective is to deal with long-pending arrears, the objective will be subserved by assigning more than five-year-old cases to the ad hoc judges so appointed, and these judges should not be permitted to perform any other legal work, including arbitration.

The bench said Chief Justices of the High Courts could initiate the process for the appointment of ad hoc judges only after they have already made recommendations of permanent judges for more than 20 percent of the regular vacancies.

The top court came to this conclusion after noting the backlog has crossed 57 lakh cases, while the consistent ratio of vacancies across the High Courts stood at almost 40 percent. As a result, the top court allowed the High Courts to use the extraordinary provision under Article 224A of the Constitution.

“We have taken the first step with the hope and aspiration that all concerned would cooperate and retiring/retired judges would come forth and offer their services in the larger interest of the judiciary. We must set aside apprehensions, if any, to chart this course and we are confident that there will be a way forward,” the bench said.

The top court asked the Union Law Ministry’s Department of Justice to submit a report regarding the process.

Clarifying the trigger point for appointment of ad-hoc judges, the top court said: “(a) If the vacancies are more than 20 percent of the sanctioned strength (b) The cases in a particular category are pending for over five years (c) More than 10 percent of the backlog of pending cases are over five years old (d) The percentage of the rate of disposal is lower than the institution of the cases either in a particular subject matter or generally in the Court.”

The top court added that the appointment of ad hoc judges should be processed by the Centre within three months and their salary and perks should be on par with the permanent judges of the High Courts.

The 37-page top judgment came on a PIL of NGO Lok Prahari seeking the appointment of ad hoc judges in High Courts under Article 224A in order to reduce pendency of cases.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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