Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has requested the government to bring Constitutional amendments to raise the strength of the Supreme Court and to increase the retirement age of High Court judges from 62 to 65, The Times of India reported on Saturday. Gogoi told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the top court has 58,669 pending cases and the number is rising due to more cases being filed.

“I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public,” Gogoi wrote in a letter to Modi.

The Supreme Court has a maximum strength of 31 judges and all positions got filled recently for the first time in over a decade. The strength was last increased from 26 to 31 in 2009.

Gogoi told Modi that not having enough judges prevented him from setting up five-judge Constitution benches to hear cases involving substantial questions of law or the interpretation of the Constitution. Gogoi said that the strength of the High Courts had risen in the last decade from 895 to 1,079, and a proportional increase would need the Supreme Court to raise its strength from 31 to 37. He said 26 cases were pending in the top court for 25 years, 100 cases for 20 years, 593 for 15 years and 4,977 for 10 years. The backlog in the High Courts is over 43 lakh, he said.

High Court judges

In another letter to Modi, the chief justice said a Constitutional amendment should be made to let High Court judges retire at the age of 65 instead of 62. He cited shortage of High Court judges as a prime reason for the “ever-growing pendency”.

“This, in turn, would help in improving the vacancy position and consequently reducing pendency of cases,” Gogoi said in the letter. “This would also be in consonance with the (repeated) recommendations made by Parliamentary standing committees.”

As many as 399 posts – 37% of the sanctioned strength – lie vacant in High Courts at present.

“A judge takes time to evolve and by the time he is in a position to put innovative thoughts based on rich experience to practice, he finds himself nearing retirement,” said Gogoi. “This can be avoided if the age of retirement is raised to an appropriate level so that his vast experience, deeper insight and expertise can be utilised for a longer period. In my view also, if retired HC judges are considered for appointment in tribunals beyond the age of 62 years, they may continue in HCs up to 65 years.”

In a third letter, Gogoi also sought the revival of an old tradition to appoint retired Supreme Court and High Court judges under Articles 128 and 224A of the Constitution to hear cases pending for years. Article 128 of the Constitution allows the chief justice of the Supreme Court to request retired judges to hear cases if they are willing. Article 224A allows the President of India to appoint additional judges to High Courts if required.