Law Minister vs Supreme Court: Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the issue of vacancies and appointments in the higher judiciary would continue to linger till such time a new system is created for the same.
Replying to questions in the Upper House of Parliament, the law minister said the Centre has limited powers over appointments of judges.
As on December 9, 777 judges are working in the high courts against the sanctioned strength of 1,108, leaving a vacancy of 331 (30 per cent).
In the Supreme Court (as on December 5), against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges, 27 are working, leaving seven vacancies.
Giving answers to supplementaries during the Question Hour, Rijiju said the total number of cases pending in various courts is about to touch five crore. He observed that the impact of such a huge pendency of court cases on the public is obvious.
The minister pointed out that the Centre has taken various measures to reduce the pendency of cases.
"Currently, the government has limited powers to fill the vacancies (in courts)," he said and added that the Centre cannot look for names other than those recommended by the collegium.
Rijiju also told the House that requests, both verbally and in writing, have been made to the chief justices of the Supreme Court as well as high courts to send names at the earliest for filling up the vacancies of judges.
The minister said somehow he feels that "we are not working as per the spirit of the House and feelings of the people of the country".
"We are giving our full support to reduce pendency of cases. But questions will keep arising on vacancy of judges and appointments till we create a new system for appointments," he added.
Asked if the government will revive the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, Rijiju said several retired judges, prominent jurists, advocates, lawyers and leaders of political parties have opined that the striking down of the Act by a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was not correct.
In order to make the collegium system for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts more broad-based, transparent, accountable and for bringing objectivity in the system, the government enacted the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 with effect from April 13, 2015.
However, the Acts were challenged in the apex court, which, through a judgment dated October 16, 2015, declared both Acts as unconstitutional and void.
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