New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the plea of eight judicial officers of Tamil Nadu, seeking to be considered for appointment as judges of the Madras High Court. They also sought direction to return the list of names already recommended by the collegium of Madras High Court for appointment as judges. The grievance of the petitioners (judicial officers) was that despite being the senior most in the cadre of District Judges, they have been overlooked and their juniors now recommended for elevation to the High Court as Judges. A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said we are of the considered view that the claim of the writ petitioners is wholly untenable and the writ petition is misconceived. Hence, the writ petition is dismissed. The bench noted that the petitioners were duly selected and appointed as district judges (entry level) by way of direct recruitment on February 18, 2011 and therefore they had not completed 10-years of service as judicial officers, as on date. They contended that the experience gained by them as advocates to be clubbed together with the service rendered by them as Judicial Officers, for determining their eligibility of appointment of judges in High Court. The bench noted that when vacancies arose for elevation to the High Court as Judges, as against the one-third quota meant to be filled up from among the State judicial officers, the Collegium of the High Court found that the petitioners had not completed 10 years of service in a Judicial Office as required by Article 217(2)(a) of the constitution. Therefore, the Collegium recommended the names of persons who fulfilled the eligibility criteria, the bench said, adding that it is clear from the language of Article 217 that clause (1) merely prescribes the method of appointment and the age up to which an appointee can hold office. The Chief Justice, who authored the verdict on behalf of the bench said, what is sought by the petitioners is to club with their judicial service, the experience that they had at the Bar before joining judicial service. If a person is found to have satisfied the eligibility criteria, then he must take his place in one of the queues. There are two separate queues, one from judicial service and another from the Bar. One cannot stand in one queue by virtue of his status on the date of consideration of his name for elevation and at the same time keep a towel in the other queue, so that he can claim to be within the zone of consideration from either of the two or from a combination of both, the bench said. The top court said that the queue, to which a person is assigned, depends upon his status on the date of consideration. If a person is an advocate on the date of consideration, he can take his place only in the queue meant for members of the Bar. Similarly, if a person is a judicial officer on the date of consideration, he shall take his chance only in the queue meant for service candidates, the bench said. It said, Hopping on and hopping off from one queue to the other, is not permissible, and added that if any of the petitioners cease to be Judicial Officers and become Advocates, they may be eligible to be considered against the quota intended for the Bar.
The bench said while continuing as Judicial Officers, petitioners cannot seek to invoke the provision which only applies to those who have become advocates after having held a judicial office. The top court added that for the purpose of seniority, the petitioners went solely by the date of recruitment to the cadre of District Judges and not by the total length of service in a judicial office or by a combination of the number of years of practice at the bar and the number of years of judicial service. But for the purpose of determining the eligibility, they want to go by the total period of practice as an Advocate and the period of service in a judicial office. If clubbing is permitted, it should be permitted even for the contesting respondents, which if done, would upset even the seniority of the petitioners, it said. The bench said that in a way, a person holding a judicial office is better placed, as he is assured of a career progression (though in a limited sense) after being placed in something like a conveyor belt but there is no such assurance for an advocate.
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