In a meeting convened last week, the five member SC collegium has, in principle, decided to start the process of filling over 400 vacancies in High Courts throughout the country and 5 in the Supreme Court. It has reportedly agreed to go ahead with the process without necessarily waiting for the Centre to prepare a fresh memorandum of procedure (MoP) for fixing the eligibility and other criteria for the judges. As on January 1, 2016, High Courts have 443 vacancies, out of the total sanctioned strength of 1044.
Sources were quoted as saying that the drafting of the MoP is likely to take time in the absence of any such deadline set by the Government for completion of the task. The Government is also obtaining opinions of various stakeholders, State Governments and Bar Councils.
The system of drafting an MoP came up after the Apex Court decision in In re Special Reference 1 of 1998, wherein the collegium system of appointment of Judges was upheld.
Last month, Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had effectively put the ball back in the Government’s Court, giving it the liberty to finalize a draft memorandum of procedure for appointing judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. Without giving any direction on the method of amendment of the MoP, the Court had urged that the same must reflect transparency in the appointment of judges, eligibility criteria for candidates and procedure for dealing with complaints against them. You may read the LiveLaw story here.
Union Law Minister Shri D.V. Sadananda Gowda had also recently conveyed that the Central Government is ready to consider appointment of 115 judges and regularize 87 additional judges of the High Courts already in the pipeline. He had assured that the Government would not have any “ego problem” in considering them under the existing Memorandum of Procedure as the draft of the new MoP is under preparation as per the direction of the Apex Court, which had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). You may read the LiveLaw story here.
The vacancies within the higher judiciary have been mounting since October last year, when the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act as unconstitutional. You may read the judgment and LiveLaw story here.