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SC Upholds HC Verdict Asking Haryana Govt To Appoint 13 Judicial Officers As ADJS

Disposing of a batch of appeals against the high court's decision, a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra upheld the verdict and took strong note of the state government's move to approach the Centre for seeking legal opinion.

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Supreme Court Photo: File Image
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In a setback to the Haryana government, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Punjab and Haryana High Court judgment that has asked it to appoint 13 serving judicial officers as additional district and sessions judges in the state.

Disposing of a batch of appeals against the high court's decision, a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra upheld the verdict and took strong note of the state government's move to approach the Centre for seeking legal opinion.

"We have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the state government was clearly in error in finding fault with the process which had been followed by the high court and then coming to the conclusion that the decision of the high court amounted to an arbitrary exercise of power," the apex court said.

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The Haryana government had, on September 12 last year, refused to accept the recommendations made by the high court, which had named 13 people for appointment as additional district and sessions judges, on the ground that it was not consulted before alleged tweaking in the selection criteria.

According to the impugned selection criteria, the in-service judicial officers, who are serving as senior civil judges and chief judicial magistrates in the state, are required to secure a minimum of 50 per cent marks in the written test and viva voce, both separately.

Sixty-five per cent posts of additional district and sessions judges in Haryana have to be filled up with in-service lower judicial services officers and they are required to appear in written and viva voce tests of maximum marks of 75 and 25 respectively.

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According to the rules, only those candidates who get a minimum of 50 per cent marks in the tests are to be considered for appointment as additional district judges.

The tweaking in the criterion of 50 per cent marks in written and viva voce separately was done by the Recruitment and Promotion Committee of the high court in pursuance of a full-court resolution.

The state government, which took the opinion of the Union law ministry, raised objections to the tweaking of the selection criteria on the ground that it was not consulted by the high court as provided under Article 233 of the Constitution and Rule 6(1)(a) of the 2007 Rules.

The high court, in its judgment on December 20, 2023, quashed the state government's decision and asked it to implement the recommendation on the appointment of 13 judicial officers as additional district judges.

The top court, in its judgment, found fault with the state government's decisions.

It also said the Haryana government and the high court should have discussed the issues and the state should not have gone to the Centre to seek its opinion.

"We are in agreement with the high court when it has found fault with the state government for having gone beyond the remit of a consultation with the high court by referring the matter to the Union government," the CJI said in the judgment.

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The judgment, which was dictated in the open court, will be out soon after corrections, the CJI added.

"If there were any issues between the high court and the state government, then that should have been ironed out after the consultative process within the two entities," the judgment said.

It also said as the rules are silent, the high court's committee was justified in tweaking the selection criteria.

"In the present case, the rules are completely silent in regard to the manner in which the eligibility would be determined. In view of the silence, it is clearly open to the high court, in the exercise of its administrative authority, to provide the modalities in which merit or suitability would be determined," it said.

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The judgment said the high court was correct in concluding that apart from having substantive knowledge of law, the in-service judicial officers must possess communication and other skills that would emerge in the course of an interview.

In August 2022, the process for filling up 39 posts of additional district judges from the in-service judicial officers' category was initiated and after the written test and viva voce, 13 judicial officers were recommended for appointment to the state government by the registrar general of the high court on February 23 last year.

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