Long overdue reform

Long overdue reform

Creation of AIJS is a low-cost proposition and should not pose any financial problem to the government in intro-ducing this laudable reform.

The setting up of an All India Judicial Service (AIJS) on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), an overdue judicial reform, has been hanging fire for a long time. While most of the government departments have all-India service recruits selected after they have passed the all-India competitive examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) every year, the judiciary is the only set-up that does not have a national level selection process of its own to attract the best possible talent.

The idea of having an AIJS is not new.  The Law Commission has thrice in its first, eighth and 116th reports called for such a service.  The Supreme Court first in 1991 and the second time in the all-India judges case (1992) had endorsed the creation of an AIJS. In its 15th report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice too recommended for its establishment and directed the Union Law Ministry to take immediate steps in this direction.
The first National Judicial Pay Commission and the National Advisory Council to the Centre have also supported the proposal. Over and above, Article 312 of the Constitution explicitly provides for creation of a national level judicial service. But in spite of all this, the proposal could not get far in the process of concretisation and mere opposition by some state governments and high courts to the reform gave a lame excuse to successive governments at the Centre to sleep over the matter.

In the absence of a body like AIJS, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the actual required judge strength at all levels of courts. For example, against the overall sanctioned strength of 19,726 judges in country’s courts, only 15,438 are working. There are about 4,000 vacancies in subordinate courts though the sanctioned strength has gone up to 19,000. 

It goes without saying that the country’s 24 high courts with sanctioned strength of 1,017 judges are simply managing with 617 and thus account for 400 vacant positions. Similarly, the Supreme Court has only 26 judges instead of 31 including the chief justice, following the retirement of 5 judges. Consequently, the overburdened available judges are unable to clear the huge backlog of cases, leave alone handle new ones.

If started without delay, the scheme will have its own distinct advantages.  Primarily, the recruitment of judges right from the entry level will be handled by an independent and impartial agency like the UPSC through an open competition thereby ensuring fair selection of incumbents. It would naturally help attract bright and capable young law graduates to the judiciary, who otherwise, after law-graduation, prefer immediate remunerative employment in the government or the private sector.

For the subordinate judicial officers it would ensure equitable service conditions besides providing them a wider field to probe their mettle. As of now, the subordinate judges are recruited from a pool of unsuccessful lawyers who despite being not so competent, eventually become judges in higher courts as established lawyers are rarely willing to give up their lucrative practice to join the bench.

In this scheme of things, the measure of uniformity in standards for selection will improve the quality of personnel in different high courts, as about one-third of judges come there on promotion from the subordinate courts.  Similarly, judges of the Supreme Court are drawn from the respective high courts. 

In this process, only persons of proven competence will preside over the benches of superior courts, thereby minimising the scope of partiality, arbitrariness and aberrations in judicial selection.

Simultaneously, the quality of dispensation of justice will also improve considerably right from the top to the bottom, as it essentially depends upon the quality of judges appointed to man the law courts.

Toning judicial administration
Apart from serving the noble cause of national integration in a limited sense, the reform should help considerably in toning up the judicial administration by throwing open the appointments to talented persons across the country.

In addition, the objective of introducing an outside element in high court benches can be achieved better and more smoothly because a member of an all-India judicial service will have no mental block about interstate transfers. It will enrich their experience and make them better judges. At present, judges of subordinate judiciary remain only in one state where they are appointed to work.

The creation of an AIJS is a low cost proposition and should not pose any financial problem to the government in introducing this long overdue laudable reform. The amounts collected as court fees, at least, ought to be spent for this purpose instead of being utilised as a source of general revenue for the states.  

According to an agency report, figures from the ministry of law and justice show that the income generated from court fees is more than the expenditure incurred on the administration of justice. 

There are many other steps required to make our justice system work for the people. But, improving the quality of judges, enhancing the prestige and dignity of judicial service is a relatively comprehensive measure on which there is broad consensus now between the government and the judiciary.

The AIJS is expected to bring in much needed uniformity in the selection and service conditions of judges in lower judiciary which, though an important wing of our judicial system, is undeniably in a bad state.

Whether it is a question of establishing more courts, filling of vacancies or providing basic amenities to judges, the track record of most state governments has been far from satisfactory. Considering all this, the long felt need for such a service has increased several-fold.

(The writer is advocate, Supreme Court)