SC refuses to unseat Kerala District Judges who were selected through 'illegal' and 'arbitrary' procedure

    Inam Ansari
    August17/ 2023
    Last Updated:

    Supreme Court

    New Delhi:
    A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI DY Chandrachud has held that it would be contrary to the public interest to unseat candidates who were selected in Kerala Higher Judicial Service, through an “illegal” and “arbitrary” selection procedure.

    The bench, also comprising Justice Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra, held that to deprive the state and its citizens of the benefit of these experienced judicial officers at a senior position would not be in public interest.

    Also, the apex court said that it would be contrary to the public interest to direct the induction of the petitioners into High Judicial Services after the lapse of more than six years.

    Initially, a notification was issued by the Kerala High Court in September 2015 stipulating that “the merit list of successful candidates will be prepared on the basis of the total marks obtained in the written examination and viva-voce” and there was no cut off in respect of the marks to be obtained in the viva-voce while drawing up the merit list in the aggregate.

    Later in 2017, after the viva-voce was conducted, the Administrative Committee of the High Court passed a resolution where it decided to apply the same minimum cut-off marks which were prescribed for the written examination as a qualifying criterion in the viva-voce.

    The High Court reasoned that it was necessary to select candidates with a requisite personality and knowledge which could be ensured by prescribing a cut-off for the viva-voce in terms similar to the cut-off which was prescribed for the written examination.

    It observed that recruitment of candidates who performed well in the written examination, even though they fared badly in the viva-voce, would be a disservice to the public at large because they possessed only “bookish” knowledge and lacked practical wisdom.

    Aggrieved candidates, who were ousted from selection though they would rank higher than many of the candidates who have been selected, instituted petitions before the Supreme Court.

    The matter was referred to the Constitution Bench to decide as to whether it is open in law after a selection process is instituted, to change the rules of the game midstream.

    The Constitution Bench did not decide the broader constitutional issue which was referred to but held that the decision taken by the High Court was ultra vires Rule 2(c)(iii) of the Kerala State Higher Judicial Services Special Rules, 1961.

    The Supreme Court said that the High Court, being a constitutional and public authority, has to bear in mind the principles of good administration while performing its administrative duties. “The principles of good administration require that the public authorities should act in a fair, consistent, and predictable manner,” it said.

    The Constitution Bench said that though petitioners would rank higher than three candidates if the aggregate of marks in the written examination and viva-voce were taken into account, but unseating selected candidates would, besides being harsh, result in a situation where the higher judiciary would lose the services of duly qualified candidates who have gained experience over the last six years in the post of District Judge. —IANS