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The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a person, who is in judicial service, will not be eligible for appointment as a district judge by way of direct recruitment, citing Article 233 (2) of the Constitution.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra ruled that even if such a candidate has seven-year previous experience as a lawyer, such a person will not be eligible to apply for the post of a district judge. Such appointments under Article 233, the court held, will be limited exclusively to lawyers, who have seven years experience at the Bar. “…it is held that under Article 233, a judicial officer, regardless of her or his previous experience as an Advocate with seven years’ practice, cannot apply, and compete for appointment to any vacancy in the post of District Judge; her or his chance to occupy that post would be through promotion,” it held.

The ruling came on a batch of petitions filed by serving judicial officers, who had challenged the rules framed by different high courts precluding such candidates from applying for posts of district judges based on their previous experience as lawyers.

At the heart of the controversy was the interpretation of Article 233(2). The provision says, “A person not already in the service of the Union or of the State shall only be eligible to be appointed a district judge if he has been for not less than seven years an advocate or a pleader and is recommended by the High Court for an appointment.” The argument of the petitioners was that a person in judicial service with experience of 7 years as a lawyer before joining judicial service or with a experience of seven years as a lawyer and judicial officer can stake a claim under Article 233(2).

The court, however, turned down that argument and made it clear that for the purpose of Article 233(2), a candidate has to be continuing in law practice for not less than 7 years as on date of application and at the time of appointment as a district judge to be eligible for direct recruitment.