Kerala judge wins long battle for seniority, could sit on HC Bench

Kerala judge wins long battle for seniority, could sit on HC Bench

India News

AFTER A decade of litigation before the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court to claim his seniority, Kottayam District and Sessions Judge C Jayachandran has won his case, and could now be a colleague of judges who ruled against him, if appointed.

The Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana last week recommended Jayachandran along with four other judicial officers to be appointed judges of the Kerala High Court.

Once recommended by the collegium, the government can either make the appointment, or return the file to the collegium for reconsideration. The collegium can then choose to either reiterate or withdraw its recommendations.

Appointed in 2010 as a district and sessions judge through direct recruitment by the Kerala Higher Judicial Service, Jayachandran’s seniority was initially set “with effect from the date he assumes charge”.

In direct recruitment of district judges, members of the Bar with a minimum age of 35 years are selected through an examination process whenever a vacancy occurs.

Apart from direct recruitments, district judges are also appointed by transfer from among sub-judges/ chief judicial magistrates in the subordinate judiciary.

Jayachandran moved court seeking seniority over those appointed through transfer. The High Court rules prescribe a one-third quota for direct recruitment in the district judge cadre, and a 50 per cent quota for in-service candidates. Jayachandran’s case was that when the quota for in-service candidates is exceeded, they should not be given seniority over those directly recruited, even if they have taken charge earlier.

The case moved from the administrative committee of the High Court to a single Bench, and then to a division bench of the Kerala High Court. While the single judge ruled in his favour, the Division Bench ruled against Jayachandran, and in favour of his transferee colleagues Mohd Vaseem and Sophy Thomas.

Jayachandran then moved the Supreme Court, and a three-judge Bench led by Justice U U Lalit, who is also a member of the three-judge collegium that recommends candidates to be appointed as High Court judges, ruled in his favour and granted him notional seniority.

“The Division Bench of the High Court concluded that the appellant slept over his rights and rested contend with the memorials, to which the High Court responded very late; thus, interfering with the vested rights of the promotees. The by-transfer appointees continued on the basis of their seniority and also obtained further promotion in the cadre,” the Supreme Court noted in its March 2020 verdict.

In April this year, the Kerala HC revised its order of seniority to comply with the SC verdict. While this put Jayachandran in the “zone of selection” for appointment as HC judge after the Kerala government revised its order of seniority, it left out Mohd Vaseem, one of the many in-service judges.

Incidentally, Vaseem, the district and sessions judge of Idukki, too had moved the Supreme Court last week, seeking to be at least considered for elevation. He pleaded that while he had spent 32 years in service, Jayachandran had not even completed 10 years when he was considered for elevation. The SC dismissed the plea on Friday.

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