Faced with a "natural deadline", the Supreme Court on Thursday geared up for setting up a mechanism for appointment of ad-hoc judges in the high courts to reduce backlog of cases plaguing the judiciary.
The top court by referring to the "natural deadline" perhaps meant the retirement of Chief Justice SA Bobde on April 23.
The top court asked group of senior lawyers representing different high courts to hold a virtual conference among themselves to deliberate and prepare within a week a road-map on four major points which could trigger the initiation of appointment process like, what could be the percentage of pendency, how many ad-hoc judges could be appointed, how much could be the tenure of ad-hoc judges and what should the procedure be.
A special bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant said, "We don't have much time. We are facing a natural deadline. We cannot hear each and every point as it will take enough time. It will be better if you all should hold a virtual conference among yourselves and deliberate the issues and submit a report by next Wednesday".
It listed the matter for further hearing for April 15.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by an NGO Lok Prahari, seeking appointment of additional judges in the high courts under Article 224A of the Constitution in order to reduce the pendency of cases.
Article 224-A of Constitution says "...the Chief Justice of a High Court for any State may at any time, with the previous consent of the President, request any person who has held the office of a Judge of that Court or of any other High Court to sit and act as a Judge of the High Court for that State".
The bench told senior advocates Arvind Dattar, R Basant, Vikas Singh and Ravindra Srivastava representing different high courts and are assisting the court in formulation of mechanism on the issue to hold the conference and formulate a roadmap to be finalised by the court.
"We want to tell you that we want to lay down some guidelines based on scientific mechanism by which if the pendency of cases go above a certain percentage or number, when the difference between disposal rate in comparison to rate of filing of cases goes above a certain benchmark, then the process of ad-hoc judges will get triggered," the bench said.
It added that the tenure of such ad-hoc judges and the number of ad-hoc judges to be appointed will be proportional to the percentage of pendency.
"Higher the pendency in particular branches like civil cases or criminal cases or any other branch, the higher the number of ad-hoc judges will be appointed for longer tenure," the bench said, adding that regular matters will be dealt by regular judges while ad-hoc judges will work in specific areas.
The bench said that a benchmark like red or yellow colour shall be made to denote that pendency of cases if goes into red will indicate to the chief justice of the high court to initiate the process of appointment.
"The Chief Justice of the High Court will have a panel of retired judges from which they can be recommended for appointment as ad-hoc judges. This should be something scientific to prevent any arbitrariness," it said.
Additional Solicitor General RS Suri, appearing for the centre said that although the government considers the issue as not adversarial its stand on the issue is that ad-hoc appointment of judges under Article 224A should be done only after regular appointment of judges is done.
This is the legislative intent, he said, adding that if all regular vacancies are filled up there will be no need for appointment of ad-hoc judges.
The bench asked Mr Suri to file an affidavit with the stand of the central government by next week.
Senior advocate Arvind Dattar, said that there should not be a normal route for appointment of ad-hoc judges like the process adopted for regular judges .
CJI Bobde said that the President is the appointing authority of judges and no decision can be taken unless Supreme Court collegium recommends the names to the Ministry of law and justice, which in turn forwards the names to the President.
"There is no other route, this is the only route", the bench said.
The bench said that it understands the importance of collegium and the ministry to do check-up of the antecedents and for that purpose Intelligence Bureau is deployed.
"Competence, suitability and character are normally inquired. It cannot be said that it is unjustified. It cannot be that a person who has worked for years as a judge now need not go the same way for appointment as ad-hoc judge. Otherwise how will the President know his suitability," the bench said.
Mr Dattar said there are other aspects like salary and allowances which needed to be determined for the ad-hoc judges.
The bench said that it has given a thought over it and came to a conclusion since salary and allowances are paid to judges from the consolidated funds, there will be no burden on public exchequer.
The CJI said that although pension will not be there but salary and allowances will be there otherwise no one will be interested.
The bench said that efforts should be made that appointments are done within a reasonable timeframe or the motive of appointment of ad-hoc judges stands defeated.
The CJI had earlier said that Article 224A of the Constitution is not being used and the court may lay down guidelines for appointment of ad-hoc judges, if the pendency of it goes beyond a certain limit.