19 May 2023 3:39 PM GMT
The Supreme Court today pronounced its judgement in the All India Judges Association v. Union of India matter, which was pertaining to pay hike of judicial officers as per the recommendations of the Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC). Through its judgement, which was authored by Justice PS Narasimha, the court examined and accepted various recommendations of the SNJPC on...
The Supreme Court today pronounced its judgement in the All India Judges Association v. Union of India matter, which was pertaining to pay hike of judicial officers as per the recommendations of the Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC). Through its judgement, which was authored by Justice PS Narasimha, the court examined and accepted various recommendations of the SNJPC on pay, pension, gratuity, age of retirement etc. of judicial officers. The judgement also provided a timeline for the Center and the States to pay retired judicial officers pension as per the enhanced pay scale.
While doing so, the court highlighted certain principles concerning judiciary that had a direct bearing on its decision while considering the recommendations. This article details upon the said five principles as laid down by various judgements and collated by the Supreme Court in the present judgement.
I. Uniformity in Designations and Service Conditions
The first principle as detailed in the judgement is that there must be a uniformity in designations and service conditions of judicial officers. As per this principle, a unified judiciary entails that the service conditions of judges of one state are equivalent to similar posts of judges of other states. The judgement highlights that the efficient functioning of the judiciary necessarily requires "judges of caliber and capacity to be provided with the right incentives and promotion opportunities to maintain the high level of functioning of the judiciary."
In this regard, the Court noted that the First National Judicial Pay Commission recommended that the nomenclature be adopted as Civil Judge (Junior Division), Civil Judge (Senior Division) and District Judge. However, this is not being uniformly followed in the country. For example, in State of Kerala, the judges are designated as Munsiff and Subordinate Judges. In North-East too, divergence is there.
The Court therefore directed the High Courts to change the designations as per the recommendations of the FNJPC.
II. Separation of Powers and Comparison with Political Executive
The second principle provided in the judgement relates to separation of powers, which demands that the officers of the Judiciary be treated separately and distinct from the staff of the legislative and executive wings. The judgement highlights that – "It must be remembered the judges are not employees of the State but are holders of public office who wield sovereign judicial power. In that sense, they are only comparable to members of the legislature and ministers in the executive." Accordingly, parity cannot be claimed between staff of the legislative wing and executive wing with officers of the judicial wing. Thus, there cannot be any objection that judicial officers receive pay which is not at par with executive staff. It adds–
"This distinction is also important because judicial independence from the executive and the legislature requires the judiciary to have a say in matters of their finances."
The same is because if the Executive got to decide the pay of the judiciary, the independence of the judiciary may suffer.
While discussing this principle, the court also shut down the argument of the States and the Union that the Report of the SNJPC provided a significant financial burden and therefore it could not be implemented. In this context, the court stated that Judicial Officers had been working without a pay revision for nearly 15 years and that the issue of paucity of financial resources had been discussed at least three occasions in the present proceedings. The court remarked–
"Judicial Officers cannot be left in the lurch for prolonged periods of time without a revision of pay on an alleged paucity of financial resources."
III. Independence of the District Judiciary is Part of the Basic Structure
The third principle established through the judgement is that the independence of the district judiciary is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Stating that the Supreme Court on multiple occasions has upheld independence of judiciary to be a part of the basic structure, through this judgement, the court has highlighted that the earlier pronouncements have been in the context of the High Court and the Supreme Court and not in the context of the District Judiciary. However, noting that the District Judiciary also performs an important role in upholding the rule of law, the court has held that the independence of the District Judiciary must also be equally a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
'Without impartial and independent judges in the District Judiciary, Justice, a preambular goal, would remain illusory. The District Judiciary is, in most cases, also the Court which is most accessible to the litigant," states the judgement.
IV. Judicial Independence and Access to Justice Ensures Implementation of Part III of the Constitution
As per the fourth principle collated by the present judgement, judicial independence and access to justice ensures implementation of fundamental rights of a citizen. In this context, the court has stated that any interpretation of Part III of the Constitution, which consists of the fundamental rights, would also require that effective and speedy disposal of cases be done by an independent District Judiciary. Further, the court adds–
"The right of fair trial and access to justice, as contemplated by this Court, is not limited to the physical access to a Court. The right must also include all the necessary prerequisites of a Court, i.e., the infrastructure, and an unbiased, impartial, and independent judge. At the cost of repetition, for most litigants in this country, as the only physically accessible institution for accessing justice is the District Judiciary, the independence of district judiciary assumes even greater significance."
V. Equivalence of Judicial Functions of District Judiciary and Higher Judiciary
Finally, as per the fifth principle, to be truly unified, there must be integration in terms of pay, pension and other service conditions between the District Judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court. The judgement states that given that in the hierarchy of the unified judicial system a Judge of the High Court is placed above a District Judge, it is only fair that a District Judge cannot have more pay more than a High Court judge. However, it adds, that any increase in the salary of the judges of the High Court must reflect in the same proportion to the judges in the District Judiciary.
Other reports on the judgment can be read here.
Case Title: All India Judges Association v. UoI And Ors. WP(C) No. 643/2015
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 452
Click Here To Read/Download Judgement