Monday, March 31, 2014

SC does away with disparity in pensions of HC judges

The Supreme Court on Monday removed a 60-year-old disparity in computation of pension for two categories of high court judges - those appointed from judicial service from lower courts and others from among advocates.

Judges appointed from subordinate courts on retirement get pension for the entire period of service, including the time they worked as judicial officers, even if their tenure as a high court Judge was for three years.

Advocates appointed as HC judges, say a decade before reaching the retirement age of 62 years, had their pension computed taking into account their period of service as only 10 years.

A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana erased this disparity between those who get elevated from trial courts and those from among advocates.

"The experience and knowledge gained by a successful lawyer at the Bar can never be considered to be less important from any point of view in comparison to the experience gained by a judicial officer. If the service of a judicial officer is counted for fixation of pension, there is no valid reason as to why the experience at the Bar cannot be treated as equivalent for the same purpose," said Justice Sathasivam, who authored the verdict.

He added, "The fixation of higher pension to the judges drawn from subordinate judiciary who have served for shorter period in contradistinction to judges drawn from the Bar who have served for longer period with less pension is highly discriminatory and breach of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution."

Such disparity in pension affected the image of judiciary, the apex court admitted and cited this as a prime reason why many successful lawyers were shunning the offer of judgeship.

"When pensions are meager because of the shorter service, lawyers who attain distinction in the profession may not, because of this anomaly, accept the office of judgeship. When capable lawyers do not show inclination towards judgeship, the quality of justice declines," the bench said.

The court said "one rank one pension must be the norm in respect of a constitutional office". It said, "When a civil servant retires from service, the family pension is fixed at a higher rate whereas in the case of the high court, it is fixed at a lower rate. No discrimination can be made in the matter of payment of family pension."

Allowing petitions seeking parity in pension for HC judges, the bench said, "We accept the petitioners' claim and declare that for pensionary benefits, 10 years practice as an advocate be added as a qualifying service for judges elevated from the Bar." The court added 10 years service to this category of judges because the Constitution provides that a lawyer becomes eligible to be appointed as an HC judge if he has 10 years experience.

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