Functioning at Half Strength, J&K HC Struggles to Handle Pleas After Centre's 370 Move

While the high court chief justice had sent the Supreme Court collegium seven names for possible elevation earlier this year, the posts are yet to be filled.

New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir high court – which has received over 250 habeas corpus appeals since the Centre’s decision to read down Article 370 was announced – is having a hard time managing the petitions since it is currently functioning at half its strength.

According to the Indian Express, the court currently has nine judges – though it is supposed to have 17. On two separate occasions this year, the newspaper says, Jammu and Kashmir high court’s Chief Justice Gita Mittal forwarded a total of seven names to the Supreme Court collegium to fill vacant seats, but the collegium has not made any appointments.

Of the nine judges who are currently at the court, only two have been assigned to hear habeas corpus writ petitions in the Srinagar wing.

No judges have been appointed to the high court since August 2018, when two judges were elevated. At that time, the collegium had sent one more name for elevation, but the Centre had returned for reconsideration the appointment of former Senior Additional Advocate General Wasim Sadiq Nagral, Indian Express says. In January this year, the collegium asked the government to detail why it wanted this recommendation reconsidered. Nagral’s appointment remains pending till date.

Also in 2018, two judges were transferred from other high courts to J&K. No new transfers have occurred since then.

Also read: J&K High Court Quashes Preventive Detention, Kindles Hope for Other Detainees

The high court roster shows that the judges are stretched thin, are trying to hear as many cases as possible. “In the first half of the day, the Srinagar wing of the High Court has only one division bench comprising Chief Justice Mittal and Justice Rashid Ali Dar; and two single-judge benches — one under Justice Ali Mohammed Magrey and another under Justice Sanjeev Kumar. The division bench hears matters related to criminal appeals, tax matters and PILs. And the two single-judge benches hear criminal and civil writ petitions, including the writs of habeas corpus. In the second half, all four judges sit separately on four single-judge benches,” Indian Express reports.

Since the clampdown in the Valley, hundreds have been held under the PSA and detained, with many even being moved out of the region due to lack of space. According to Scrollgovernment estimates of the numbers taken into custody range from 290 to 4,000.

Amid the communications gag and widespread detentions, courts were being looked at as the last place for individuals to get recourse.

The court has, however, shown little urgency in dealing with these cases. Nearly 150 petitions are in the stage of admission and 85 are listed for orders. In 20 cases, the stage of the case still remains unknown.

Moreover, between August 5 and August 26, 288 cases were heard at the high court in Srinagar. However, in 256 of these cases, the petitioners were not present. In 235 cases, the respondents did not show up.

A majority of the petitions filed – 147 – have challenged the detention and Section 22 of the PSA, which states:

“No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceeding shall be against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of this Act.”