Judicial Pendency

Judiciary needs more HC judges: CJI


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Collegium system, NJAC

Mains level : Judicial vacancy in India

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said there was a need to both increase the number of judges in High Courts and urgently fill existing vacancies.

Judicial vacancy in India

  • The Indian judiciary faces high vacancies across all levels (the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts).
  • Vacancy of judges in courts is one of the reasons for delays and a rising number of pending cases, as there are not enough judges to hear and decide cases.
  • As of today, more than four crore cases are pending across all courts in India.

Appointing judges to the HC

  • The appointment of the judges to the high courts is governed by Article 217 of the Constitution.
  • In addition to the constitutional provisions, the process of appointments outlined in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) is a lengthy one.
  • It is initiated by the Chief Justice of the concerned high court who recommends the nominees to the state government.
  • Ideally, this process should begin six months prior to the occurrence of the vacancy.
  • The state government then sends the recommendation to the Union Law Ministry, which then sends it to the Supreme Court Collegium.

HC Vacancies

  • The total sanctioned judicial strength in the 25 High Courts is 1,080.
  • However, the present working strength is 661 with 419 vacancies as on March 1.
  • The Supreme Court has been repeatedly conveying to the government its growing alarm at the judicial vacancies in High Courts.
  • Some of these High Courts are functioning only with half their sanctioned judicial strength.
  • On average, the courts suffered at least 40% judicial vacancies.

Why is there a huge gap?

Ans. Timeline of appointment is arbitrary

  • Appointments of High Court judges are guided by a memorandum of procedure.
  • As per this memorandum, the appointment process is to be initiated by the concerned High Court at least six months before a vacancy occurs.
  • However, the Standing Committee (2021) noted that this timeline is rarely adhered to by High Courts.
  • Further, in the final stage of the process, after receiving recommendations from the Supreme Court collegium, the executive appoints judges to the High Court.
  • No timeline is prescribed for this stage of the appointment process.

How many judges do we need?

  • The Law Commission of India (1987) had noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.
  • Lack of adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.
  • Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.
  • Over the years, different methods of calculating the required judge strength for subordinate courts (where the backlog of cases in the Indian judiciary is concentrated) have been recommended:
Method of calculation Recommendation and its status
Judge-to-population ratio: Optimum number of judges per million population The Law Commission of India (1987) had recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.   For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population.
Rate of disposal: Number of additional judges required (to clear the existing backlog of cases and ensure that new backlog is not created) based on the average number of cases disposed per judge The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socio-economic conditions.
Weighted case load method: Calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions It addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.
Time-based weighted case load method: Calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the case load of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (2017- 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.


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