Published on: December 1, 2023 at 01:20 IST
The Supreme Court, emphasized the importance of providing dignified working conditions for judicial officers, both during their active service and post-retirement.
This directive came during the pronouncement of an order in the case of All India Judges Association v. Union of India, which primarily addressed the implementation of recommended pay hikes for judicial officers by the Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC).
The court highlighted the direct link between offering appropriate allowances to judges and upholding the independence of the judiciary. Court asserted that financial dignity is pivotal in maintaining the trust and confidence of the general public in the rule of law.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, led the bench, articulating:
“Apart from the arduous nature of the duties and functions, it also needs to be emphasized that providing for judges both during their tenure and upon retirement has a core relationship with the independence of judiciary. Judicial independence which is necessary to preserve the faith and common citizens’ confidence in the rule of law can be ensured and enhanced so long as judges are able to live and lead their lives with a sense of financial dignity.”
The Apex Court, through its order, affirmed that the judicial service is integral to the state’s functioning and plays a pivotal role in sustaining the Rule of Law. It underscored the distinctive characteristics and responsibilities entrusted to district judicial officers for dispensing justice effectively.
The bench underscored the state’s duty to ensure that the conditions of service align with the need for dignity, both during and after the tenure, for former judicial service candidates. The court emphasized:
“The state is duty-bound to ensure that the conditions of service both during the tenure of office and upon retirement are commensurate with the need for dignity in terms of working conditions and post-retirement benefits made available to former judicial service candidates.”
Acknowledging the demanding nature of their work, the court pointed out that district judicial officers often extend their working hours beyond the conventional court schedule.
Supreme Court emphasized that the work encompasses case preparation, judgment drafting, and various administrative functions integral to their responsibilities.
The bench stated: “Members of the district judiciary are the first point of engagement for citizens who are confronted with the need for dispute resolution. The conditions in which judicial offices across the country work are to say the least arduous. The work of the judicial officer is not confined merely to the working hours rendered in the course of judicial duties in the court. Every judicial officer is required to work both before and after court working hours.”
Dispelling the misconception that a judge’s work is confined to court hours, the court stressed the wide-ranging administrative duties undertaken by district judiciary members. It clarified: “That apart, members of the district judiciary have wide-ranging administrative functions which take place beyond working hours. These include engagement with the discharge of numerous duties in relation to prison establishments, postal institutions, legal services camps, etc.
Hence, it is a misnomer to postulate that the work of a judge is assessed in terms of the performance of duties during court working hours.”
Addressing potential financial concerns raised by the States, the Supreme Court dismissed arguments that increased expenditure for maintaining proper conditions of service was a justifiable defense. The order highlighted that judicial officers dedicate a significant portion of their working hours to the institution, limiting opportunities for legal work outside their judicial duties.
The bench concluded: “The state, which is under an affirmative obligation to ensure dignified conditions of work for judicial officers, cannot justifiably raise the defense of an increase in financial burden or expenditure necessitated by the maintenance of proper conditions of service. Judicial officers spend the largest part of their working hours in the service of the institution.
The nature of judicial office often renders incapacitated opportunities for legal work, which may otherwise be available to a member of the bar. That furnishes an additional reason that by post-retirement, there is a necessity for the state to ensure that judicial officers are able to live in conditions of human dignity.”