ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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No Judges to Judge

How can people get justice when there are so many vacancies in the lower and higher judiciary?

The central government and several states promptly announced the setting up of fast-track courts to deal with rape cases following the public outrage against the gang rape and mutilation of the 23-year-old young woman in Delhi recently. Politicians and media called for “speedy justice” and more stringent punishment for convicted rapists. But can justice be “speeded” up when we do not have enough judges or public prose­cutors or trained personnel for the forensic laboratories that provide crucial evidence? Surely, before declarations are made to assuage public anger, the government has to deal with judicial vacancies and the absence of adequate trained personnel in the criminal justice system.

There are 282 vacancies in the judges’ posts in higher courts while in the lower judiciary there are 3,634. We should not be surprised, given these realities, that there are 3.2 crore cases pending across India, many for over two decades. As far as vacancies in the Supreme Court (SC) and high courts are concerned, the central government points to the “collegium system” as a reason for empty benches. The procedure is lengthy with the chief justice and five of the senior-most judges (in the SC) and three in the high courts tasked to recommend future judges, with the final choice resting with the SC. The executive has no say in this process. The collegium system has been criticised by many former judges who point out that there is a lack of transparency in this process and there is no mechanism to select suitable candidates. The central government has been trying to change this by advocating the setting up of a National Judicial Commission but has not pursued the proposal because of the SC’s ruling in 1993 and 1998 holding that the appointment process initiation lies solely with the judiciary.

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