ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hiring Reforms and the Composition of Lower Judiciary

​​​​​​​A Study of Punjab’s District Courts

In India, the lowest tier of the judiciary is recruited through competitive examinations held by the state’s high courts or public service commissions. Until 2002, there was a three-year experience requirement for applying to these positions. However, the Supreme Court decided to do away with the same, allowing recent graduates to apply for the judgeships. Examining the impacts of this change in the composition of district courts, it was found that the reform has lowered the age-at-entry of new judges by over 2.2 years, and improved women’s representation.

The authors acknowledge the valuable comments offered by the anonymous referee.

In most democracies, the judiciary performs the crucial function of upholding the rule of law. Access to timely justice is essential for the welfare and dignity of the people. This understanding is enshrined in the recognition of “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by the members of the United Nations. In India, most citizens generally access the judiciary through the 672 district courts—the lowest rung of a three-tiered judicial system. As of June 2023, more than 4.3 crore cases are pending in district and taluka courts across India, out of which around 45% of cases have been pending for more than three years. This massive backlog of the cases warrants urgent and structural reforms.1

The recruitment process for new judges is one possible arena for such reforms. Over 19,236 judges sit in these courts.2 In most states, a newly recruited judge enters as a civil judge (junior division) or a judicial magistrate (first class), but these titles vary by state. They handle cases that might lead to imprisonment of up to two years on the criminal side and cases involving assets up to `3 lakh in civil cases. Most cases involving bail are also handled by them. Usually, the judges are selected by a multistep process that includes clearing competitive exam(s) conducted by the state’s high court, followed by an interview. All applicants must have a law degree. Earlier, work experience of at least three years as an advocate was a requirement as well.

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Updated On : 16th Aug, 2023
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