Raise SC strength, retirement age of HC judges: CJI

To tackle the huge backlog of over 43 lakh cases in the Supreme Court and high courts, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, in two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has requested top priority for passage of two constitutional amendments suitable increase in the strength of SC judges which currently stands at 31 and raising the retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 years.

A third letter from the CJI to the PM sought the revival of an old tradition of tenure appointments of retired SC and HC judges, under Articles 128 and 224A of the Constitution respectively, so they can be assigned cases pending for years.

The apex court, which attained its full strength of 31 judges only recently after more than a decade, had a pendency of 58,669 cases and the number was rising due to a higher rate of filing of fresh cases, the CJI said. His letter said there were 26 cases pending for 25 years, 100 cases for 20 years, 593 cases for 15 years and 4,977 cases for 10 years.

He said inadequate judge strength prevented the CJI from constituting the required number of five-judge constitution benches to adjudicate cases involving substantial questions of law or interpretation of constitutional provisions.

“You would recall that way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution,” CJI Gogoi said.

In 2007, the pendency was 41,078; now, it stands at 58,669.

“I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public,” he said.

The CJI also informed the Prime Minister that in March 2007, the then CJI had told the government that if HC judge-strengths were being enhanced triennially, it could definitely be done at least once in a decade for the SC. “Despite this, no norms in this regard have been laid down,” he said.

“Though the size of the feeder cadre of chief justice and judges of the HCs has increased in the last decade from 895 to 1,079, judge-strength in the SC has not been increased proportionally,” CJI Gogoi said. A proportional increase would warrant an increase of SC judges from 31 to 37. In his second letter, the CJI requested the PM to consider bringing a constitutional amendment to increase the retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 years.

With more than 43 lakh cases pending in the 24 HCs, CJI Gogoi said, “One of the prime reasons why we are not able to contain the ever-growing pendency is shortage of HC judges. At present, 399 posts, or 37% of sanctioned judge-strength, are vacant... However, despite best efforts put in by all stakeholders, it has not been possible to appoint judges to bring the working judge-strength anywhere close to the sanctioned judge-strength.” The CJI added, “In the present scenario, it is my view that the retirement age of HC judges should be raised by three years, This, in turn, would help in improving the vacancy position and consequently reducing pendency of cases.”

Though the standing committees had recommended increasing retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 and that of SC judges from 65 to 67, the law ministry had said in January that there was no such proposal with the government.

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