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Raghavender spoke of the limited role of the Central Government in filling judicial vacancies, apart from several other issues concerning the judicial system, while speaking in a webinar organised by Spread Law.
Whereas judicial vacancies are a serious problem, the Central Government's role in filling vacancies is limited, observed Joint Secretary of the Union Law Ministery, GR Raghavender today.
Raghavender was speaking on what the Government is doing to improve the Indian Legal System in an online interactive session hosted by Spread Law this evening.
The webinar saw Advocate Sumit Nagpal pose questions on pertinent topics including judicial delays, case pendency, judicial vacancies and the working of virtual courts.
On the issue of judicial vacancies, Raghavender pointed out that the Central Government does not come into the picture at all in the appointment of district and subordinate judges.
The Central Government is only involved in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, and that too after the Collegium has decided on proposals. The Government is working with the Collegium to fill judicial vacancies at this level, he added.
On High Court appointments, he informed that since 2014, 543 judges (including 464 additional judges) were appointed. Supreme Court vacancies were also filled up when they arose, he said.
In this backdrop, he went on to add,
During the talk, it was acknowledged that case pendency continues to be an important issue in India.
He noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also spoken on the issue, remarking that the burden is not only on the judiciary but also on the Government since about 40% of the pending litigation pending is government litigation.
To ensure that delays in Government litigation are minimised, Raghavender also informed that there are nodal officers monitoring the same through an online portal i.e. the Legal Information Management & Briefing System.
As for case pendency figures, it was noted that about 69,000 cases lay pending before the Supreme Court, about 45 lakh cases before 25 High Courts and over 3 crore cases were before over 3,000 district and subordinate court complexes.
In this backdrop, he also spoke on the figures of judge vacancies, recalling that in 2014 the sanctioned strength of judges was at 19,518. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of judges required by about 2,000 judges.
At present, he said that the sanctioned strength of judges needed stands at 24,064. Of this, about 19,160 judges have been appointed. As a result, about 4,900 judicial vacancies are left to be filled at the subordinate level.
As for how to improve the judge-to-population ratio in India, Raghavender noted that following the Supreme Court's directions in Imtiyaz Ahmad v. State of UP, a scientific method was eventually developed to ascertain the current performance of judges.
Thereby, it could be discerned how many new appointments or courts may be required to deal with the case pendency.
Rather than a simple judge-to-population assessment method, the scientific method reviewed by the National Court Management System committee involved assessing case disposal by also weighting the nature and complexity of the case being dealt with by the judge. This weightage disposal method is a more scientific method to assess the judge's performance, Raghavender noted.
On the top Court's instructions, in 2017 the Union Law Minister himself addressed letters to the Chief Justices of High Courts and Chief Ministers of States to use this scientific mechanism to assess the performance of judges.
Based on this, Raghavender remarked, it may be ascertained how many new judges would be required, and thereafter, the judge-to-population ratio may be improved. It is up to the Supreme Court to implement the finalised final report, he said, adding that "it will happen."
Raghavender informed that the Union Law Minister, RS Prasad, is keen to introduce the All India Judicial Service Exam for the appointment of judges, provided that there is an agreement for the same from the side of the judiciary.
He recalled that the idea had found support in various Law Commission reports and by several Committees. While it was introduced in the 42nd Constitutional amendment as a way of bringing in new blood in the judiciary, little has been done to implement the same.
Raghavender opined that the its implementation remains in limbo owing to a lack of political will. Another problem is rooted in members of the judiciary itself being opposed to the idea. Raghavendra remarked,
The webinar also served to inform the audience of the various E-Court initiatives carried out in three phases over the years.
Notably, Raghavender also spoke of the introduction of a Justice app which is only available to judges for which purpose special links are sent to them through Telegram.
The app has all the tools available on the E-Court services portal, apart from details of the cases the judge has to deal with, including how long the case has been pending. In this way, the judge can prioritize which cases he wants to deal with on priority and dispose of long-pending cases.
Another useful tool on the app allows the judges to scan unique bar codes assigned to each case, which will help in generating all case details in real time.
Raghavender also spoke on whether timelines should be prescribed for the conduct of trials. He noted that such a time-bound trial has already been introduced in certain cases such as those fall under the purview of the Commercial Courts Act. This feature may be extended to more categories of cases as well, he said.
Another topic discussed was the live streaming of cases. He noted that the Calcutta and Telangana High Courts had already started live streaming in some cases. While the NIC has been tasked to develop the technology to implement the same, it is up to the Supreme Court to decide when to implement it for cases before it, Raghavender said. He added that live-streaming of cases has many advantages, including crowd control in court halls.
On a concluding note, he opined that costs should be imposed on those taking unnecessary adjournments in cases beyond a certain limit. However, he added that such measures for implementing time-bound litigation are only possible with the cooperation of both the Bar and the Bench.