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  • Atishya Kumar

Almost 15 Years Since the Court Manager Experiment - What’s Next in Administrative Reforms in the Indian Judiciary?


It is commonly believed that the judges, especially in District Courts, only work from 10:30 AM - 4:30 PM on workdays. However, this could not be further away from reality.  Due to a number of administrative responsibilities including hiring ministerial staff, organising events, taking care of infrastructural and IT issues, etc. and the time required to prepare for the cases listed before the judge, they are required to work extremely long hours. Despite their dedication, the problem of case pendency and judicial backlogs seems to be ever-increasing.


Paucity of judicial resources in the system is one of the glaring reasons for the judicial backlog. The solution is to recruit more judges at all levels of the judiciary by increasing sanctioned posts. However, hurdles like lack of qualified professionals, budgetary constraints, infrastructural constraints, lack of clarity regarding how the judge strength of every court should be calculated, etc. have led to stagnation in the number of judges appointed yearly.


An equally important problem that remains inadequately addressed is that the system does not make the best use of the judges’ time. As a step towards reducing the workload of district judges and allowing them to focus on their core judicial functions, the post of ‘Court Manager’ was created under the 13th Finance Commission (p. 6) in 2010. The idea was to recruit MBA-qualified experienced professionals to assist judges in their administrative duties.


However, almost 15 years since the introduction of the scheme, there is no sign of increased efficiency in courts attributable to the post. The last evaluation of the scheme was conducted in 2015, which led to the Union Government withdrawing the funding (p. 7) for the post and leaving its continuation and the capacity of the same to the discretion of the states (p. 76). Due to this, the post of Court Manager was discontinued in several states and was only regularised by a few High Courts like Chhattisgarh, Guwahati, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh,  Jharkhand, Punjab and Haryana, Tripura, etc. The Supreme Court also emphasised the need (p. 14; para 12 [ix]) for Court Managers in the District Courts in 2018. However, the lack of any recent analysis regarding the scheme's efficacy and reports of the scope of the role being reduced from assisting the judges in administrative functions to assisting the ministerial staff in completing odd jobs indicate that this experiment has failed and should be given a dignified burial.


Lessons from the Court Manager Scheme

The need to separate judicial and administrative functions in the courts is critical. Currently, judges are burdened (p. 19) with administrative tasks they receive limited training for, hindering their core judicial responsibilities. While judicial officers receive training for their legal duties, they receive no formal preparation for administrative work. Administrative duties are considered ancillary and something they are expected to learn on the job. Administrative responsibilities continue to add up over time as the judicial officers progress through the judicial hierarchy. Such responsibilities get more specialised at the High Court Registries where senior District and Sessions Judges are appointed for positions like Registrar General, Registrar Infrastructure, Registrar Judicial IT, Registrar Listing, Registrar Hospitality, etc.[1] Consultations with some of the Registrars across the country suggest that specific training is usually not provided for these specialised administrative posts. This practice brings into question the quality of administrative decisions being taken in the High Courts. Furthermore, the scarcity of judicial officers in the District Judiciary is exacerbated by their deputation to the High Courts.


The creation of the post of Court Manager was seen as a panacea at least at the District Judiciary level. While there are several underlying reasons for the failure of this initiative, two main issues that need to be tackled with anything new are: one, mindset issue within the judiciary and two, the lack of clarity over the position in the hyper-hierarchical administrative set-up that continues to exist in the courts.


The idea of bringing in someone specialising in administration with no legal experience worked against the implementation of the scheme as Court Managers were seen as outsiders. They were seen to be unqualified for some of their responsibilities like safeguarding quality, ensuring efficiency as well as ensuring that the standard of quality of adjudication set by the respective High Courts was met. Their lack of experience in the judicial system led to judges not trusting them enough to give away administrative control.


On the other side, the ministerial staff also did not see the Court Managers in any decision-making authority. In most District Courts, a Chief Ministerial Officer (also known as a Shirestedar or Chief Administrative Officer in some jurisdictions) was already seen as the supervisory authority for administrative staff. There was no clarity regarding where the Court Manager fit in this hierarchy and what administrative functions were under the domain of the Court manager as compared to the existing administrative staff.


To make matters worse, qualified candidates were not attracted to the position due to low compensation, lack of defined career progression and job security due to the contractual nature of the job. It is also difficult to believe that one individual was considered to be sufficient for tasks including not only court and case management but also quality, human resources, IT and core systems management of a court, when in fact, as mentioned above, in the High Courts a separate Registrar, leading a team of individuals is deputed for all these functions.


Court Administration in Other Jurisdictions

It is clear from above that any new system that is created will have to keep these issues in mind. It is also important to gain some global perspective to identify various possible ways in which court administration in India can be revamped.


In the United Kingdom (UK), court administration of all courts and tribunals except the UK Supreme Court comes under the domain of His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), which is an agency of the Ministry of Justice. HMCTS is an autonomous executive agency that works to ensure efficiency, accessibility and independence of the judiciary, among other things. They are also responsible for all court reforms like introducing technology and case management systems to meet these objectives. The organisation is guided by a Board and the day-to-day functions are overseen by an Executive Team. The recruitment process for ministerial staff in Indian District Courts varies from post to post. While (p. 70) the State Public Service Commissions hold examinations for regularised government positions in administrative branches in most states, the Principal District and Sessions Judge is responsible for filling the contractual positions and ad hoc positions. However, HMCTS as a central organisation hires all the support staff for specific roles and deputes them as per the requirements of each court. This ensures that judges focus only on judicial tasks and persons specialising in different fields can make informed decisions for improving the justice delivery system. It also must be noted that there are posts like Court Managers for leading administrative functions in individual courts in the UK. However, Court Managers are part of the overall administrative team of the court, all of whom are recruited through HMCTS ensuring standardised qualifications, roles, pay scales, etc.


Similarly in Canada, the Courts Administration Service was established in 2003 to provide administrative support to four courts of law: the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada. Just like the HMCTS, the Canada Courts Administration Service provides support to the courts in tasks including listing of cases, maintaining court records, processing documents filed by or issued to litigants, etc. All members are recruited for specific posts and are government officials. while the Chief Administrator of the Courts Administration Service of Canada is an accomplished lawyer, her team consists of people with educational backgrounds and experience relevant to their post. For example, the Chief Digital Officer has a management background.


Provincial Courts have their own set of administrative officers, which are led by Court Administrators who work independently but collaboratively with the judges (Ryder-Laher and Solomon 2008; p. 31).


The court administration system followed in the individual courts of the United States of America is quite similar to the Indian District Judiciary. The chief judge of each court oversees the day-to-day administration of the court and they hire court staff for administrative functions. The court staff is supervised by a clerk or court administrator, under the overall guidance of the chief judge. However, the courts are assisted by the Administrative Office (AO) of the US Courts with certain “legislative, legal, financial, technology, management, administrative, and program support services to federal courts.” The AO (headed by a Director) performs tasks like advising the court staff on administrative matters, developing and planning the execution of the budget for the courts, providing centralised services like payroll, monitoring the performance of the court, etc.



The examples of the three jurisdictions indicate the clear need for reforms for the entire District Judiciary. This will ensure that administrative tasks of the courts are undertaken by individuals with relevant expertise and judges can devote their time towards adjudication. To achieve this, the following steps are recommended:


  1. Creation of a cadre of administrative officers with specialised roles in each District Court headed by a Court Manager: Currently, the ministerial staff is the administrative backbone of each District Court. However, despite the staff having specific responsibilities like scrutiny of cases that are filed, maintaining court data, serving summons, etc. recruitment for all these posts is done in an ad-hoc manner and no specific qualifications are required for most positions. This issue is heightened when the roles are even more specialised like the staff that comprises computer committees or are allocated to E-Sewa Kendras. It is also not possible for one Court Manager to be able to manage all these specialised tasks. Hence, there is a need for an administrative cadre to be set up at each District Court, similar to the registry at the High Court level. For each specialised administrative branch of the District Court, individuals with the qualifications and skillsets required for that branch should be recruited. For example, for technology-related aspects like digitisation, video conferencing, case management systems, E-Sewa Kendras, etc. persons appointed should be qualified in IT. The same would be the case for infrastructure, organising legal aid camps, staff assisting judges in the courts, etc. and the general supervisory role would be played by the Court Manager. A central policy defining the qualifications required for each role would have to be created to ensure standardisation across states with states being able to add additional requirements based on their individual needs.

  2. Qualifications, roles and responsibilities and career progression of the cadre of administrative officers: The position of the Court Manager was not given importance as they were considered to be outsiders with no knowledge of the judiciary. Considering this feedback, the revised system would benefit from having a Court Manager with legal experience at the top of the administrative setup. As previously mentioned, for specialised administrative roles, qualifications would differ. However, as the role of the Court manager would be more supervisory and general, an accomplished lawyer selected with the help of the Bench would ensure that they are more readily accepted and the judges would be more willing to part with their administrative duties. This would be similar to the Canadian Court Administration Service setup. The issue of lack of career progression can be resolved if the administrative team is promoted to the High Court and joins the registry. The administrative tasks can then be solely taken up by the specialists who have gained experience at the District Court level. States can create their own policies depending on the number of Registry officials needed at the High Court and the qualifications for each specialised role. For example, a Court Manager with legal qualifications might be better suited to the post of Registrar (Listing) or Registrar (Judicial) than Registrar (IT) or Registrar (Infrastructure). For posts requiring skills beyond law and management, the people recruited at the District Court level for their specific skills may be elevated to perform the same role at the High Court level, based on performance. For example, an IT professional recruited for the Computer Committee at a District Court may be elevated to the post of Registrar (IT) ensuring steady career progression for all.  This system in turn would also ensure that the District Court judges lacking expertise in administration are not required to do purely administrative work by being deputed to the High Courts.

  3. Creation of a State-Level Administrative Offices: While an organisation like HMCTS, which is completely centralised might not work for a diverse quasi-federal country like India, the US example at the state level can help provide administrative assistance. This would mean that the Ministry of Law and Justice at the Union level would be the nodal ministry and would create a complete policy, including qualifications for Court Managers and the entire administrative setup for both High Courts and the District Courts under them. The State Law Departments would have the mandate of ensuring that the High Court in their state and the District Courts are following the streamlined structure for administrative functions in courts and may add requirements as per their need. The State Law Departments would be required to formulate a committee with representatives from the Bench and the state government to appoint Court Managers. This would also ensure their regularisation providing them with job security and other benefits that a government official is entitled to, making these posts more attractive for good candidates. An Administrative Office should also be set up by every state to provide support in tasks like budgeting for each District Court and the state’s High Court, payroll of administrative staff, in case of any policy decisions, the Administrative Office can provide assistance, etc.



The Indian Judiciary's Court Manager experiment, while well-intentioned, has proven ineffective.  However, the crucial need for administrative reform and the separation of judicial and administrative functions remains pressing. Studying judicial administration systems in the UK, Canada, and the US showcases the need for a customised structure for the Indian district judiciary. The time is ripe to embrace the lessons from the court manager’s experience and bring in the era of efficient court administration.


[1] While Registrar (General) is a position common to all High Courts, specialised administrative posts and functions differ from High Court to High Court. For example the High Court of Karnataka has 10 sitting Registrars. The High Court of Delhi has 20 sitting Registrars and their roles are not detailed on the website <>  accessed 5 April 2024.

This article has been authored by Atishya Kumar, a Research Fellow in the Justice, Access and Lowering Delays in India (JALDI) Initiative at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. The author would like to thank Deepika Kinhal, Team Lead (JALDI) for her inputs and feedback. Views are personal. This blog is part of RSRR's Excerpts from Experts Series.


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