The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the promotion of 68 judicial officers in Gujarat as district judges, saying that the state government should not have done so while the matter was sub-judice, Live Law reported.

Among those whose promotion was halted was Surat Chief Judicial Magistrate Harish Hasmukhbhai Varma, who held Congress leader Rahul Gandhi guilty of criminal defamation on March 23 and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. Following the verdict, Gandhi was disqualified as a Lok Sabha MP.

The Gujarat government issued the promotion order on April 18 after the High Court made a recommendation to that effect. Two senior civil judge cadre officers who were among the unsuccessful candidates for promotion – Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Prataprai Mehta – filed a petition against the order before the Supreme Court, PTI reported.

In response to the petition, the Supreme Court had issued notices to the state government and the registrar general of the Gujarat High Court on April 13.

A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar on Friday said it was unfortunate that the state government issued the order even though it received the court’s notice seeking its stand on the case.

“We are more than satisfied that the impugned list issued by the High Court and the subsequent order issued by the state government granting promotion to district judges are illegal and contrary to the decision of this court,” the bench said. “The same are, therefore, not sustainable.”

The Supreme Court said that the Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules, 2005, which were amended in 2011 state that promotions must be based on the principle of merit-cum-seniority and must be granted only after the candidate passes a suitability test.

“We stay the implementation of the promotion list,” the court said. “Respective promotees are sent to their original post which they were holding prior to their promotion.”

The bench, however, clarified that the stay order applies only to those whose names do not figure in the first 68 candidates in the merit list for promotion.

The court directed that the case be heard by an appropriate bench as Justice Shah is slated to retire on May 15.