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In a major ruling concerning the subordinate judiciary, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that civil judges cannot be appointed by way of direct recruitment to posts of district judges reserved for practising lawyers.

Civil judges can be appointed to the post of additional district judges (ADJs) through promotion and not by participating in a competitive examination, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat observed.

Delivering its verdict which was reserved on January 16, the court noted that members of judicial service who have seven years experience before joining the service or completed seven years in combination of practice and service are not eligible for direct recruitment to the higher judiciary.

Reading out the operative portions from the judgement, Justice Mishra said practising lawyers with a minimum seven years experience at the bar can appear for the examination for higher judicial services.

The examination for appointment of ADJs is conducted by the high courts.

Interpreting Article 233 (2) of the Constitution, the bench noted that the provision prevents candidates already in judicial service to be considered for appointment through direct recruitment as district judges.

According to Article 233 (2) of the Constitution, a person not already in the service of the Union or of a state shall only be eligible to be appointed as a district judge if he has been for not less than seven years an advocate or a pleader and is recommended by a high court for appointment.

The question of interpretation of Article 233 was referred to a larger bench by a two-judge bench in 2018.

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