Collegium system of appointing judges is back, more than 400 court vacancies

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With the collegium system staging a comeback after six months, it has to fill more than 400 vacancies in high courts and appointing full-time chief justices in eight states.

On 16 October, the Supreme Court had ruled the NJAC Act unconstitutional as it was to replace the two-decade-old collegium system of judges appointing judges in the upper echelons of judiciary.

The judgment will allow the collegium system to continue, which was declared unconstitutional under the 99th amendment of the Constitution to bring in the NJAC Act.

The government will have to decide on 120 recommendations made by the collegium before the system was overturned by the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act (NJAC), which came into force on April 13.

According to the department of justice in the law ministry, there are 406 vacancies in the high courts. The approved strength of the 24 high courts is 1,017 and they are at present functioning with 611 judges as on October 1.

The data records Bombay, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Punjab and Haryana, Karnataka, Patna, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Gauhati High Courts have acting chief justices.

While the new law scrapped the collegium system, the Chief Justice of India had refused to take part in a meeting with the Prime Minister of the selection committee of the panel under the NJAC law, thus leaving the new system in a limbo.

With no proper system in place to elevate judges as chief justices of high courts, acting chief justices head the high courts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Patna, Gauhati, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

To overcome judges’ shortage, the government by using Article 223 of the Constitution had recently sought the Supreme Court’s permission to give extension to additional judges in various HCs whose tenure was coming to an end.

Except for Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura, the remaining 21 high courts faced shortage of judges. The Allahabad High Court had a shortage of 85 judges.

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