Is govt serious about All-India Judicial Service?

According to the proposal, those who clear the pan-India test conducted by the new All-India Judicial Service Commission will be appointed by high courts and different state governments as judicial officers

It was way back in 1961 that a proposal for an All-India Judicial Service was first suggested in the Chief Justices’ Conference as a way to remove any scope for judicial or executive intervention in the appointments to the judiciary. The proposal was shelved after some states and High Courts opposed it till 1976 when the Constitution was amended to provide for an AIJS under Article 312. The proposal was again floated by the ruling UPA government in 2012 but the draft bill was shelved again after opposition from High Court Chief Justices who labeled this an infringement of their rights.

Now once again the concept of an All India Judicial Service like the Indian Administrative Service is in the air after the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Rajya Sabha recently that the government was trying to expedite the setting up of the AIJS.

According to Article 312(1) of the Constitution — which provides for setting up All India Services, including AIJS — the Rajya Sabha is required to pass a resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of its members present and voting. Thereafter, Parliament has to enact a law creating the AIJS.

The proposal assumes importance because a 2012 report of the National Court Management Systems had projected that the number of cases being filed would reach 15 crores in 30 years, requiring 75,000 judges.

According to the current proposal, those who clear the pan-India test conducted by the new all-India judicial service commission will be appointed by high courts and different state governments as judicial officers. The proposal is likely to be presented to the higher judiciary to seek its views before the draft being taken to the Union Cabinet.

The government has prepared an outline of the proposed All India Judicial Services and a lawyer with seven-year practice or someone engaged in teaching at a recognized law college or university for the same time would qualify to take the exam provided the candidate is aged between 28 and 35 to be eligible for the test.

The AIJS is meant to induct district-level judges. A certain percentage of inductions will be reserved for civil judges, who will thereby be provided an opportunity to improve their career prospects. However, states and respective high courts will be responsible for hiring the remaining civil judges. The subordinate judiciary has two tiers and involves civil judges or magistrates and district judges. Even serving civil judges can take the exam to qualify for the AIJS provided they have served for the required number of years.

The government in June wrote to the states seeking their view on the AIJS which would be more or less on the pattern of the Indian Administrative Service and the government wants to engage the UPSC to conduct the exam. The AIJS entrance exam may be held at the zonal levels — North, South, East, West, and Central so that judges are posted closer to the places they belong to, unlike IAS which offers state cadre on the basis of preference given by the candidates and the performance in tests and interview.

A Law Commission report in the year 1987 recommended that India should have 50 judges per million population as against 10.50 judges at that time. As on January 28 this year, the working strength of the subordinate judiciary was 19,318 against the sanctioned strength of 24,247. It means almost 5,000 posts remain vacant. What mars the working of courts is the pendency and according to the National Judicial Data Grid, 3.81 crore cases are pending in various district and taluka courts across India. More than one lakh cases are pending for over 30 years. The situation deteriorated in the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown.

At present, various high courts (25 at present) and state service commissions hold exams to recruit judicial officers. Although many state governments argue that in absence of knowing the local language how a person from north India can hold hearings in a southern state, the Centre is of the view that even IAS and other Central services officers have served in different states overcoming the language barrier.The government is of the view if such a service comes up, it would help create a pool of talented people who could later become a part of the higher judiciary.

The written submission in the form of a reply by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Rajya Sabha recently assumes added significance as he made it clear that a “properly framed” All India Judicial Service (AIJS) on the lines of other all-India services such as IAS and IPS is important to strengthen the overall justice delivery system. The service will give an opportunity for induction of suitably qualified fresh legal talent selected through a proper all-India merit selection system as well as address the issue of social inclusion by enabling suitable representation to marginalized and deprived sections of the society.

It is learnt that cutting the language barrier across India, the Union government plans to conduct All-India Judicial Service (AIJS) examination in 22 languages. The move is in line with the present UPSC examination pattern, where such exams are conducted in multiple languages. The move would blunt most of the opposition to the proposal by the states as the UPSC allows candidates to choose from a list of 22 modern Indian languages given in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution.

While responding to a supplementary query, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said exams for AIJS will be conducted like the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) does for IAS, IPS, and other services.

“Whenever there is talk of AIJS, it is raised how Assam people will go to Tamil Nadu. Are not IAS people getting posted in TN? Are not Kerala people going to Bihar? They will pick up the language.”  According to the minister, the government is thinking that there will be four categories in the entire country for AIJS so that people from north, south, east, and west can come in those clusters. “The language will not be a problem,” Prasad said and urged all stakeholders to support the great initiative of judicial reform and make it a success.

Prasad also mentioned that the stakeholder consultation process is already underway despite opposition from many state governments and high courts. “We are making efforts. It is the commitment of our government. Taking the benefit of the floor of this house, I would appeal to all stakeholders including all HCs that it is a great reform. If we have traditional and conventional opposition, please overcome it and join in this great reform initiative,” Prasad said.

Asserting that the proposed AIJS will provide a good talent pool, the minister said, “When we can have IAS, IPS, IFS, why not the AIJS to be conducted by a proper body like UPSC with merit selection process so that India’s judicial service also attract the best talent and proper representation also.”