Centre to make fresh attempt for consensus on judicial services

Eight months after his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad described the proposed All India Judicial Service as a “work in progress” that he was “keenly pushing”, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju will soon start pursuing a consensus with states on the contentious issue, The Indian Express has learnt.

Sources said the Centre is likely to place the proposal on the agenda of a meeting scheduled in the last week of November of law ministers from all states and union territories to discuss judicial infrastructure in the lower judiciary.

Rijiju, they said, is keen to bring all states on board on the issue and is likely to initiate a fresh conversation with them.

“In the Government’s view, a properly framed All India Judicial Service is important to strengthen the overall justice delivery system, especially at the district and subordinate court level. But it is important to take all states on board,” a Ministry official said.

“Some issues have been brought up on AIJS before. All issues can be addressed if states are on board. For instance, on the issue of language, if IAS officers can learn the languages of different states when they are assigned cadres, even judges can,” the official said.

The establishment of an AIJS, a national-level recruitment process for district judges on the lines of the Union Public Services Commission, is a proposal that has been floated by the Centre for over a decade.

Under the Constitution, the power to make appointments to the lower judiciary vests with the states. Currently, states conduct their own exams based on vacancies that arise.

While several states, including Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal, have opposed the creation of a central service for state judiciary, the Supreme Court has expressed positive views on the issue.

An AIJS was first mooted in the 1950s by the Law Commission and was discussed during the Chief Justices Conference in 2013 when it was decided that the issue needs further deliberation as several high courts were opposed to the idea.

In January 2017, then Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad held a meeting with the Attorney General of India, the Solicitor General of India, Secretaries of the departments of Justice, Legal Affairs and Legislative to iron out divergent views on eligibility, age, selection criteria, qualification and reservation.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice of India J S Khehar took up the issue suo motu, and circulated a concept note to all states stating that the move was only to ensure that vacancies were filled in a timely manner. “We assure you that we will not tamper with the federal structure,” CJI Khehar had said in court.

However, in affidavits filed before the Supreme Court, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand opposed AIJS. Their key concerns were the dilution of the federal structure and that the proposal does not address structural issues plaguing the lower judiciary, including low pay and fewer chances of being promoted to the higher judiciary.

In February this year, at a function in Patna in the presence of the then CJI S A Bobde, Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Government was in “discussion” with the Chief Justice of India to establish “very soon” an All India Judicial Service or Indian Judicial Service drawing the “best minds” via competitive examinations.

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