State under obligation to ensure dignified working conditions for judicial officers: SC

The State is under obligation to ensure that judicial officers have dignified conditions of work and it cannot cite scarce resources to deny them human dignity after retirement, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

Members of the district judiciary are the first point of engagement for citizens who are confronted with the need for dispute resolution, it said.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said judicial independence, which is necessary to preserve the faith and confidence of common citizens in the rule of law, can be ensured and enhanced so long as judges are able to lead their lives with a sense of financial dignity.

“The state which is under an affirmative obligation to ensure dignified conditions of work to the judicial officers cannot justifiably raise the defence of 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 service of the institution. The nature of judicial office often renders incapacitated opportunities

of legal work which may otherwise be available to a member of the bar. That furnishes an additional reason that by post-retirement, it’s necessary for the state to ensure that judicial officers are able to live in conditions of human dignity,” the bench said.

The top court said the conditions in which judicial officers work across the country are arduous and their work is not confined merely to the working hours rendered in the course of judicial duties in the court.

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Every judicial officer is required to work both before and after court working hours, it said.

The court made the observations while hearing the plea filed by the All India Judges Association on pay and service conditions of judicial officers.

The apex court had earlier granted a last opportunity to the defaulting states and Union territories to clear the salary arrears and other dues of lower court judges in accordance with the recommendations of the Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC).

The SNJPC recommendations cover their pay structure, pension and family pension and allowances, besides dealing with the issue of establishing a permanent mechanism to determine the subjects of service conditions of the district judiciary.

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