Kerala High Court
Kerala High Court
Litigation News

Elevation of District Judges: Age limit of 58 and 1/2 years exists; exceptions made by Collegium a matter of their discretion: Kerala HC

The ruling was passed while rejecting an appeal filed by a senior District Judge officer, who was aggrieved by his non-consideration for elevation to the High Court

Meera Emmanuel

The Kerala High Court recently rejected an appeal filed by a senior District Judge officer, who was aggrieved by his non-consideration for elevation to the High Court (John K Illikkadan vs UOI and ors).

Earlier, a single Judge of the High Court had ruled against him, inter alia, on the ground that he had crossed an internally circulated upper age limit of 58 and 1/2 years on the date of vacancy, as far as the elevation of District Judges to the Higher Judiciary was concerned.

This finding was based on a communication issued by the Central Government in April 2009, following a proposal on these lines by the Chief Justice of India.

The single Bench had added that since post sought by the District Judge was a Constitutional post, he does not have any substantive right of appointment. The single Judge dismissed his plea after also noting that there was no violation of service conditions involved in the case.

In the appeal filed challenging this single Judge ruling, the District Judge contended that there is no prescription of a maximum age of 58 and 1/2 years, even in the Memorandum of Procedure uploaded online.

Further, he pointed out that the Collegium had made exceptions to waive such age restrictions while considering District Judges for elevation to other High Courts.

Contesting these submissions, the standing counsel for the High Court referred to various recommendations made by the Supreme Court Collegium, wherein a specific reference to the age limit of 58 and 1/2 years was made when it come to the elevation of District Judges. He argued that there cannot be any judicial direction to make an exception for the District Judge in this case.

A Division Bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and VG Arun accepted this position and affirmed the ruling of the single bench. The judgment passed on February 5 states,

We perfectly agree with the learned Single Judge that there is a prescription insofar as the age limit of 58 1⁄2 years.
Kerala High Court

In this regard, the Court pointed out that the 2009 communication issued by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice to the Chief Justice of India was also incorporated in the single Bench judgment. Further, it was noted,

“It [Letter] specifically speaks of the Chief Justice of India having observed that the recommendations made to fill up the vacancies set apart for Judicial Officers would be considered, only of those Judicial Officers, who have not crossed the age limit of 581⁄2 years. The communication issued was, in keeping with the observations of the Chief Justice of India.”

Kerala High Court

Moreover, the Division Bench also observed that it can be gauged from various Collegium recommendations that the age limit of 58 and 1⁄2 years has been taken into consideration before deciding on the proposed elevation of District Judges.

Applying this age limit, the Court noted that the last vacancy for which the judicial officer in this case was entitled to be considered had risen back in November 2018. “In such circumstances, we do not find any reason to entertain the writ appeal”, the Court said.

Before dismissing the appeal in limine, the Division Bench also added,

As far as the exceptions made by the Collegium of the High Court or the Hon'ble Supreme Court, it is a discretion exercised, which cannot be directed judicially. We are also not aware of the background facts which led to such exceptions being applied and we need not proceed on that basis alone.
Kerala High Court

The appellant in the case was represented by advocates TC Govindaswamy, Kala T Gopi and B Namadeva Prabhu. Assistant Solicitor General P Vijayakumar represented the Central Government, whereas standing counsel Elvin Peter PJ appeared for the Kerala High Court.

[Read the Judgment]

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