Ad-hoc judges to be appointed to deal with unprecedented pendency of cases in High Courts. Supreme Court issues guidelines and “trigger points” for activation of dormant Article 224A

Supreme Court: Activating the “dormant” Article 224A of the Constitution, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant, JJ has issued some general guidelines for the appointment of ad hoc Judges to deal with the unprecedented situation arising from the backlog of cases pending in the High Courts, which has now crossed the figure of 57 lakh coupled with the consistent ratio of vacancies of almost 40 per cent.

While the discretion of the Chief Justice of the High Court under Article 224A is not, the Court stated that certain checks and balances must be provided so that Article 224A can be resorted to only on the process having being initiated for filling up of the regular vacancies and awaiting their appointments.

GUIDELINES

i. Trigger Point for activation of Article 224A:

The Trigger Point cannot be singular and there can be more than one eventuality where the it arises

  1. If the vacancies are more than 20% of the sanctioned strength.
  2. The cases in a particular category are pending for over five years.
  3. More than 10% of the backlog of pending cases are over five years old.
  4. 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.
  5. Even if there are not many old cases pending, but depending on the jurisdiction, a situation of mounting arrears is likely to arise if the rate of disposal is consistently lower than the rate of filing over a period of a year or more.

ii. Embargo Situation:

If recommendations have not been made for more than 20% of the regular vacancies then the trigger for recourse to Article 224A would not arise.

As per data, there are only ten High Courts having fewer than 20% vacancies as on 1.4.2021; seven High Courts having fewer than 10% vacancies in permanent appointments but then there may be additional Judges and there are cases which are in the pipeline.

“Thus, the parameter we have adopted is that, at least, the recommendations should have been made leaving not more than 20% vacancies in order to take recourse to Article 224A.”

iii. Pre-recommendation process:

  1. Past performance of recommendees in both quality and quantum of disposal of cases should be factored in for selection as the objective is to clear the backlog.
  2. The Chief Justice should prepare a panel of Judges and former Judges. Naturally this will be in respect of Judges on the anvil of retirement and normally Judges who have recently retired preferably within a period of one year. However, there can be situations where the Judge may have retired earlier but his expertise is required in a particular subject matter. There may also be a scenario where the Judge(s) may prefer to take some time off before embarking upon a second innings albeit a short one. In the preparation of panel, in order to take consent and take into account different factors, a personal interaction should be held with the Judge concerned by the Chief Justice of the High Court.

iv. Methodology of Appointment:

Para 24 of the MoP lays down a procedure for appointment under Article 224A of the Constitution must be followed to see the progress made and impediments, if any. However, since the Judges are already appointed to the post through a warrant of appointment, the occasion to refer the matter to the IB or other agencies would not arise in such a case, which would itself shorten the time period.

v. Time to complete the process:

The requirement that recommendations should be made six months in advance by the Chief Justice of the High Court emanates from the concept that the said period should be required to complete the process in case of a regular appointment of a Judge under Article 217 or 224 of the Constitution of India. Since there are a number of aspects not required to be adverted to for appointment under Article 224A, a period of about three months should be sufficient to process a recommendation and, thus, ideally a Chief Justice should start the process three months in advance for such appointment.

vi. Tenure of Appointment:

The tenure for which an ad hoc Judge is appointed may vary on the basis of the need but suffice to say that in order to give an element of certainty and looking to the purpose for which they are appointed, generally the appointment should be for a period between two to three years.

vii. Number of Appointments:

At least, for the time being dependent on the strength of the High Court and the problem faced by the Court, the number of ad hoc Judges should be in the range of two to five in a High Court.

viii. Role of ad hoc Judges:

  • More than five year old cases to be assigned to the ad hoc Judges so appointed. However, this would not impinge upon the discretion of the Chief Justice of the High Court, if exigencies so demand for any particular subject matter even to deal with the cases less than five years old, keeping the primary objective to deal with long pending arrears in mind.
  • A division bench of ad hoc Judge and sitting Judge in matters to be heard by Division Bench not to be constituted. The Division Bench, at present, may be constituted only of ad hoc Judges because these are old cases which need to be taken up by them.
  • Because of the very nature of the profile and work to be carried out by ad hoc Judges, it would not be permissible for an ad hoc Judge to perform any other legal work whether it be advisory, of arbitration or appearance.

ix. Emoluments and Allowances:

For all practical purposes the ad hoc Judge would receive the same emoluments, allowances and benefits as are admissible to the permanent/additional Judges.”

  • The emoluments and allowances of an ad hoc Judge should be at par with a permanent Judge of that Court at the relevant stage of time minus the pension.

“This is necessary to maintain the dignity of the Judge as also in view of the fact that all other legal work has been prohibited by us in terms of the aforesaid guidelines.”

  • Emoluments to be paid would be a charge on the Consolidated Fund of India consisting of salary and allowances.

“… it is a misconceived notion that there will be an additional burden on the State Government if some perquisites are made available to ad hoc Judges by the State Government. The trigger for appointment of ad hoc Judges is the very existence of vacancies and had these vacancies been filled in, the State Government would have incurred these expenses anyhow. In any case there is a limit placed on the number of ad hoc Judges and, thus, the existence of vacancies actually results in the savings for the State Government(s), which would otherwise be amount expended as their allowances and perks.”

  • All allowance/perks/perquisites as are admissible to the permanent/additional Judge(s) would be given to the ad hoc Judge(s).
  • As far as housing accommodation is concerned, either the rent-free accommodation should be made available or the housing allowance should be provided on the same terms and conditions.

The Court concluded with the following words,

“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. The guidelines cannot be exhaustive and that too at this stage. If problems arise, we will endeavour to iron them out.”

[Lok Prahari v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 1236 OF 2019, decided on 22.04.2021]

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