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The problem of vacancies in the Indian Judiciary

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Indian Judiciary


Source: The Hindu, PRS

 Context: Parliamentary panel has asked the Executive and the Judiciary to come up with “out of box thinking” to deal with the “perennial problem” of vacancies in High Courts.


Vacancies in the Indian Judiciary at various levels

  • Out of 1,100 judges in various high courts in the country, there are about 400 to 500 posts vacant all the time
  • The lower judiciary presently has around 5,300 seats vacant – over 20% of its capacity
  • These vacancies are important as around 1 crores of pending cases are before these courts
  • While the Union Ministry of Law and Justice publishes a comprehensive dataset every month noting vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts, it has no similar mechanism for the lower courts


How many judges do we need?

The Law Commission of India (1987) noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.  The lack of an adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.  Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.


Methods recommended for calculating the required number of judges for subordinate courts

Method Of Calculation Recommendation and its status
Judge-to-population ratio: optimum number of judges per million population The Law Commission of India (1987) recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.   For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population
Rate of disposal The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that the filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socioeconomic conditions.
Weighted case load method: calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions The National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016) critiqued the rate of disposal method.     It proposed, as an interim measure, the weighted caseload method, which addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.


Way forward:

Time-based weighted caseload method: calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the caseload of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (January 2017- December 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.


Other reforms needed in Indian Judiciary


Insta Links:

Increasing Vacancies in Courts


Mains Link:

Q. Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgement on the ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014’ with reference to the appointment of judges of higher judiciary in India. (UPSC – 2017)


December 2022

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