Bar association cries foul at CM`s alleged recommendation of a junior officer for HC judgeship

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By Paojel Chaoba

IMPHAL, April 13: Apex legal body of the State, All Manipur Bar Asociation (AMBA) has charged the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi of alleged favouritism in the selection process of a High Court judge.

The Manipur High Court inaugurated in December, 2011 has a present strength of three judges, namely Justice LK Mohapatra, Justice N Koteswor,Justice Kh Nobin Singh. However, the sanctioned strength is for five judges. The matter for deputing five judges was pursued by Ibobi with the Union Law Minister Salman Khursid back in 2012. According to his D.O. letter number 16/2/2012-Law (GHC) – five judges will be needed to dispose of the numerous pending cases and also for the ever increasing number of legal disputes.

The allegation by the AMBA is that Ibobi has recommended a junior judicial officer for the judgeship bypassing six senior officers.

In this regard, AMBA sent a representation to the Union Law Minister; DV Sadananda Gowda, Chief Justice of India; HL Dattu and Justice Ranjan Gogoi of the Supreme Court of India on February 19 this year.

The representation mentions that the Registrar General of the High Court of Manipur, namely Songkhupchung Serto has been recommended for the fourth judgeship bypassing six senior officers.

They are Roland Keishing, A Guneshwar Sharma, Ng Kipgen, M Manojkumar Singh, S Imocha Singh, K Brajakumar Sharma (not listed on seniority basis).

Serto is the junior most judicial officer and is listed in number 7 in terms of seniority, the bar memo said. `This unjustified recommendation is against the directive of the Chief Justice of India that elevation of judgeship should be on seniority basis,` the representation added.

Further, for a judgeship prerequisite, Serto has not been able to deliver and submit 10 contested judgements (5 civil and 5 criminal) and thus having no experience as a Grade-1 officer, it further said. Due to this fact, he was superseded by his junior judge M Manojkumar Singh at the time of Grade-I promotion, the memo further said.

It also said that the manner by which Serto was posted as Registrar General since 2012 is also doubtful as the senior most Grade-I judicial officer should hold the post. Pointing out other facts the memo said since his promotion, Serto has not been able to pass a single judgement, his experience being `more on the administrative side`, it added.

It is also pointed out that in the Trail Courts, there are specific guidelines for awarding grades to judicial officers such as disposal of number of cases, judgement quality after examining 10 cases etc.

Whereas, for the officers posted at the High Court, there is no specific guideline. This is also another problem in grading of the judicial officers, the representation said.

It alleged that S Serto has no experience on the appellate side of a District and Sessions Court. `After his promotion to Grade-I, he has been posted in the registry for the last 4 years, which was continuous from the post of deputy registrar (Grade-II),` it said.

Moreover, this was done without following the convention and practice of all the High Courts of India, i.e. the tradition of senior most Grade-I judicial officer being posted as Registrar General.

Hence, recommending him bypassing two scheduled tribe and four general category judicial officers in terms of seniority and work experience is manipulative and points to gross injustice to the judicial system itself, the AMBA memo said.

The AMBA representation further urged the Supreme Court Justice, Ranjana Gogoi among others to cancel the recommendation of Serto in the larger interest and proper dispensing of justice for all.

Aside of the AMBA, the proceedings of the 31st emergency executive meeting of the High Court Bar Association resolved that the existing vacant post of judge should be filled up from amongst the persons who have held 10 years experience at a judicial office in Manipur according to seniority and suitability, it said.

It may be mentioned that there has been a hue and cry over promotional matters in various state departments, charging seniority and experience is often overlooked.

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