Supreme Court Chief Justice H L Dattu’s recent statements specifying the denial of justice within the Indian judiciary has led to a faceoff between the CJI and the NDA government.
Dattu said that there were more than 40 per cent of vacancies to be filled up in different High Courts for the post of judges and that the judicial proceedings were being delayed due to the shortage of judges. He said that whether a person was guilty or not would be determined only after the trial, the delay leads to denial of justice. Justice Dattu was considering the petition filed by the relatives of the deceased who lost their lives in the 2002 Godhra riots that urged to direct the High Court to decide at the earliest, on the appeal, filed by the guilty in the case. The Bench headed by Dattu said that it cannot direct the High Court to take an immediate decision and that they should understand the difficulty it faces due to the huge backlog of cases pending in different courts. The Supreme Court Bench was expressing its concern over the shortage of judges in senior positions. With more than three crore cases pending before the three levels of the courts, the state of affairs in Indian judiciary is alarming. A National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) was formed by the government to have a say in the selection process and appointment of judges. The Commission to be headed by the Chief Justice of India replaces the more than two decade old collegium system which kept the government out of the selection process. The move was questioned by the Supreme Court and is at present under the consideration of the Supreme Court panel. Even though the collegium ceased to exist from March last year, the NJAC did not start functioning which led to the delay in the appointment of judges. The NJAC headed by justice Dattu had informed the Prime Minister that he would not join the panel until the Supreme Court decided on the validity of the new Commission to appoint the judges. The current issues causing stagnation would only be resolved after the apex court decides on the matter.
The NJAC was established through the 99th Constitutional amendment. Supreme Court Chief Justice, two senior judges under the Chief Justice, Union Minister for Law and Justice and ‘two eminent persons’ nominated would be the members of the Commission. The Commission gives power to the government to regulate judicial appointments. It can thus recommend the appointment of the Supreme Court and High Court Chief Justices, the judges of both the apex court as well as the High Court, suggest the transfer of the High Court Chief Justice and judges and also ensure that those recommended were qualified for the post. Before the formation of NJAC, the collegium comprising of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, four senior judges of the apex court, Chief Justice of a special High Court and two senior judges decided the selection, appointment as well as the transfer the justices and judges of the Supreme Court as well as the High Court. Those who opposed the collegium system pointed out that the appointments made were anti-democratic and flawed. But there have been rampant accusations of the government trying to interfere into the judiciary through the formation of NJAC. There have been earlier instances of the government intruding into the Education Department pressurized by the Sangh Parivar. Immediate steps should be taken to fill up the vacancies of judges in the different courts as it could lead to indefinite delay in the judicial proceedings. There are thousands left to decay in jail due to the delay in the court proceedings triggered by the shortage of judges spending the precious years of their life in jail. Justice delayed is equal to justice denied. Therefore the trails should begin on time to punish the culprits and release the innocents as the earliest and for that to happen, judges should be appointed without further delay. The weight of the pending cases would otherwise crumble the judiciary and the people would lose faith in the system.