The Karnataka High Court on Friday got five new judges, a development which has brought down the number of vacancies to 27. The five judicial officers named by President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday to be promoted as additional judges were Ashok G Nijagannanavar, HP Sandesh, K Natarajan, PG Mutalik Patil and AS Bellunke, who will be appointed as the new additional judges, according to a government notification.
Thursday’s announcement comes just three days after the Supreme Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation to fill up the vacant position of judges at the Karnataka HC. The PIL, filed by Bengaluru-based advocate GR Mohan, stated that the vacancies were against Article 21 which guarantees access to justice.
In February, lawyers practising at the High Court had gone on a week-long hunger strike over the delay in appointment of judges. The strike was organised by Members of the Advocates Association Bengaluru and the Karnataka Bar Council. At that time, there were only 24 judges at the High Court against the sanctioned strength of 62.
Speaking to TNM then, senior lawyer DLN Rao had said, “Karnataka has the highest number of vacancies of judges. Judges are being overworked and cases are taking longer to dispense because of this. We have requested the Chief Minister and the Chief Justice of Karnataka several times over the last few years but no appointments have been made.”
He added, “This is the worst thing that could happen to a litigant. What is the purpose of justice if the case is not decided in your lifetime? There are so many undertrials languishing in prisons, thousands of bail applications and property dispute cases just piling up. This will lead to a breakdown of the law. Hence, we are left with no option but to protest.”
Karnataka HC over the past years has been in the news for having one of the worst ratios of working and the sanctioned number of judges. Even on October 1, the last comparative data available on the Union Law Ministry, Karnataka had one of the worst ratios.
According to those figures, Karnataka HC was worst functioning with 46% sanctioned strength of judges, the Allahabad HC which had the highest vacancies (71) had 55% of its sanctioned strength of judges. According to the same data, combining all vacancies in the HCs and the Supreme Court, 40% of the judges' posts remain vacant.