December,31,2015: Two additional judges of the Kerala High Court were sworn in again on Wednesday as their two-year terms were about to expire was renewed for three months.
The temporary renewal comes in the face of uncertainty regarding the norms for appointing judges to the higher judiciary as it is yet to be finalized by the Supreme Court in consultation with the union government.
Judges are appointed to the high courts as additional judges for a two-year period and they later get confirmed as a permanent judge, get their tenure extended, or are terminated.
Justices P Ubaid and K Abraham Mathew were sworn in again as the President issued orders for extending their tenures by three months each. Both of them were sworn in as additional judges of the high court on January 1, 2014. As the chief justice was out of station, they were administered the oath by justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan as the puisne judge.
As the Supreme Court-initiated revamping of the collegium system has just begun, and would take more time to come into effect, the Kerala High Court is now faced with a situation where it would have to swear in once again over a dozen additional judges, who were appointed since the beginning of 2014, if their terms get extended.
In fact, the number of vacancies of additional judges at the high court now stands at minus five. While the approved strength of additional judges at the Kerala high court is 11, a total of 16 additional judges are presently working at the high court (as of December 1st).
The only other high court in the country that surpassed the Kerala high court in recruiting more additional judges than the approved strength was the Calcutta high court, with the number of vacancies being minus nine. Guahati (minus two) and Chattisgarh (minus one) were the only other high courts that followed the Calcutta and Kerala high court in recruiting more additional judges than the approved strength.
A total of 15 additional judges were sworn in at the Kerala high court since January 1, 2014, with 9 of them elevated from the bar whereas 6 got promoted from judicial service. Two of the judges were sworn in on January 1st last year while four of them were sworn in on January 23rd last year. On May 21st last year, two of the judges were sworn in whereas a total of seven judges were sworn in together on April 10ththis year.
National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, which was passed unanimously by the Lok Sabha on August 13th last year, was notified on April 13ththis year. On October 16th this year, the Supreme Court declared NJAC Act unconstitutional. Last week, the union government began working on the task of bringing in a new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointments to the higher judiciary, as directed by the apex court.
Regarding vacancies of permanent judges, Kerala high court has eight vacancies (as of December 1stthis year), with an approved strength of 27 and working strength of 19. Of a total approved strength of 38, including additional and permanent judges, Kerala high court has a working strength of 35 judges.
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