‘Govt Has Limited Power To Fill Vacancies In Courts’: Rijiju Amid Row Over Judges’ Appointments

New Delhi: In the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the issue of appointments in higher judiciary would continue to linger till a new system is set up and that the government currently has limited powers to fill the vacancies. 

Replying to questions in the Upper House of Parliament, Rijiju said the Centre has limited powers over appointments of judges. “Currently, the government has limited powers to fill the vacancies (in courts),” Rijiju said and added that the Centre cannot look for names other than those recommended by the collegium.

It is to be noted that as on December 9, 777 judges are working in high courts, which is against the sanctioned strength of 1,108. In the Supreme Court, against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges, 27 are working, leaving seven vacancies.

The Union law minister further said the total number of cases pending in various courts is almost five crore and added that the impact of such a huge pendency of court cases on the public is obvious.

“We are giving our full support to reduce pendency of cases. But questions will keep arising on vacancy of judges and appointments till we create a new system for appointments,” he said.

Asked if Centre will revive the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, the minister said that several retired judges, prominent jurists, advocates, lawyers and leaders of political parties are of the opinion that striking down of the Act by a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was not correct.

In a bid to make the collegium system for appointment of judges to Supreme Court and high courts more transparent, accountable and for bringing objectivity, the government enacted the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 with effect from April 13, 2015.

However, the Acts were challenged in the top court which through a judgment on October 16, 2015, declared both Acts as unconstitutional and void.

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