NEW DELHI: Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda is all set to initiate consultations with chief ministers and top judges on the naming of members to the higher judiciary months after the Supreme Court struck down a new law on appointment of judges to the apex court and high courts.
"Frankly, this memorandum of procedure (MoP) is the top- most priority of the Law Ministry in 2016. As the Supreme Court has left it to the ministry to draft the MoP in consultation with CMs and chief justices of the (24) high courts, I want the document ready in consultation with the Chief Justice of India," Gowda said listing the top priorities of his ministry in the new year.
He said "it should only be done after due consultation" with the CJI as due "care" must be taken while drafting the document.
According to him, while the central government has no role in filling up huge vacancies in the judiciary, he wants the judiciary to address the issue at the earliest. While collegium has the primary responsibility to fill up vacancies in high courts and the Supreme Court, he said the Centre will encourage states and respective high courts to fill up vacant posts in subordinate judiciary.
Responding to a question on the Supreme Court striking down a new law to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts, he said the draft MoP "will be our prayer to the apex court" to include certain issues to improve the system of judges' appointment.
As of now, there are two MOPs -- one dealing with appointment of CJI and other judges of the Supreme Court and the other dealing with appointment of chief justices and other judges of high courts. The MoP is roadmap of procedure on how a judge will be appointed.
"My second priority will be to get the approval of the Union Cabinet for the new litigation policy so that the pendency in courts is reduced," he told PTI. The litigation policy aims to reduce litigations where
government is a party. With government perceived as the biggest litigant, the policy aims to check the trend of central ministries and departments approaching courts to settle issues.
While there are no official figures, government is believed to be a party in 46 per cent of the pending cases in courts across India. "We are the biggest decision makers in the country, hence we are party to maximum number of cases," a top Law Ministry official explained.
The former UPA government had brought out a national litigation policy in 2010 but it had failed to take off. After the NDA government came to power in 2014, the policy draft was revised. But despite rewritings, the Law Ministry has far failed to get the approval of the Union Cabinet.
The Uniform Civil Code is another issue which will keep the Law Ministry in headlines in 2016.
Terming the implementation of Uniform Civil Code as "duty of the state", Gowda had said in the Rajya Sabha on December 18 that the issue is under examination but any further steps would only be taken after wider consultation with stakeholders.
He said Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the Constitution sets implementation of Uniform Civil Code as "duty of the state."
"In view of the importance of the subject matter and sensitivity involved, wider consultation with stakeholders would be required for taking further steps in this regard. Currently, the matter is being examined by the government," he said.
The Supreme Court had earlier this month said that the initiative to implement the Code rested with Parliament and not the Judiciary. In a written response on the same issue in Lok Sabha on
December 3, Gowda had said that government has received representations from various quarters supporting implementation of a Uniform Civil Code, but keeping in mind the sensitivity involved, wider consultations would be required before taking further steps.
Recently, Gowda had told reporters that a Uniform Civil Code is necessary for national integration but any decision to bring it can be taken only after wider consultations. Gowda had said "wider consultations" will be held with various personal law boards and other stakeholders to evolve a consensus and the process may take some time.
"Another important issue which the Law Ministry will deal is helping judiciary clear pendency of cases. We have given and would continue to provide funds to improve the infrastructure of courts so as to remove obstacles in dealing with pending cases," he said.
The judiciary in India, including the lower courts, have disposed over 2 crore cases in 2014, while they still face a backlog of over three crore cases, the ministry has said. The subordinate courts settled 1,9019,658 cases in 2014, but their backlog still consists of 2.64 crore cases.
Similarly, the 24 high courts disposed 17,34,542 cases in 2014. The pendency in the high courts was estimated at 41.53 lakh at the end of December, 2014. The Supreme Court disposed of 44,090 cases this year till December 1, while the pendency there has been estimated at 58,906 till the beginning of December, 2015.
The year 2015 saw the Law Ministry notify the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act on April 13 even as the Supreme Court was hearing sides on the validity of the law. On October 16, the Supreme Court struck down the NJAC Act and an accompanying Constitutional Amendment Act, thus reviving the collegium system which was overturned by the new law.
Later, after hearing different sides to ways to improve the collegium system, it asked the government draft a new MoP after consulting judiciary and the chief ministers of states. Seeking to encourage more investments in the country, the government had promulgated two ordinances aimed at creating commercial benches in select high courts and amending a law on arbitration for speedy settlement of high value business disputes.
The two ordinances -- Arbitration and Conciliation Act (Amendment) Ordinance and the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Ordinance -- were later brought to Lok Sabha where they were passed. They are now (December 18) pending before the Rajya Sabha.