High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021

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    • Recently, Rajya Sabha approved The High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021.

    About the bill 

    • The Bill seeks to amend the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954 and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1958.  
      • These Acts regulate the salaries and conditions of service of the judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court of India.
      • Under the Acts, all retired judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and their family members are entitled to pension or family pension
    • They are also entitled to an additional quantum of pension or family pension when they attain a certain age in accordance with a specified scale.  
    • The scale contains five age brackets (with a minimum age of 80, 85, 90, 95, and 100 years), and the additional quantum increases with age (from 20% to 100% of the pension or family pension).  
      • The Bill clarifies that a person will be entitled to the additional pension or family pension from the first day of the month in which they complete the minimum age under the concerned age bracket.  

    Expected Implications 

    • This is a very limited amendment and It is not going to affect in any manner the judges’ salaries.
    • It brings clarity on the eligibility of additional pension quantum for different age brackets for retired judges.
    • It aims to provide the benefit of additional quantum of pension to a retired Judge from the first day of the month in which he completes the age specified in the first column of the scale and not from the first day of his entering the age specified therein as so interpreted by the High Courts.

    Issues Involved in Judiciary

    • Vacancy in High Courts:
      • The total sanctioned strength of judges across the 25 high courts is 1,098 but the working strength is only 645, a shortfall of 453 judges.
    • High Pendency of Cases:
      • The issue of the huge backlog of cases pending in courts and problems faced by people when it comes to access to justice was highlighted.
        • Justice is a fundamental right and there is a backlog of four crore cases in the country.
    • Cumbersome Process:
    • The delays in the appointment of High Court judges affect the justice delivery mechanism.
    • Lack of transparency:
      • Presently, there is no structured process to investigate if a judge who is recommended by the collegium has any conflict of interests.
    • Improper Representation:
      • The collegium system tends to favour particular sections of society and is far from being representative of the population for whom it seeks to deliver justice.

    Way Ahead 

    • There is a need to look at the Law Commission reports calling for reforms in the judicial system and changes in the criminal laws and the criminal justice system.
    • The current step by the government is a collaborative process involving both the executive and the judiciary important for fulfilling up the vacancies.
      • But, a permanent, independent body to institutionalize the process with adequate safeguards to preserve the judiciary’s independence is required.
    • Instead of selecting the number of judges required against a certain number of vacancies, the collegium must provide a panel of possible names to the President to appoint in order of preference and other valid criteria.

    Constitutional Provisions for Appointment of Judges

    • Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President under Articles 124(2) and 217 of the Constitution.
      • Article 124(2) says: “Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as he may deem necessary.
      •  Article 217: “Every Judge of a High Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the Governor of the State, and, in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of the High Court.”

    Source: LM