Collegium System for the Appointment of Judges
- 12 Feb 2022
- 6 min read
Why in News?
Recently, the Supreme Court Collegium has recommended appointing Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari as Chief Justice of Madras High Court.
What is a Collegium System and How Did It Evolve?
- It is the system of appointment and transfer of judges that has evolved through judgments of the Supreme Court (SC), and not by an Act of Parliament or by a provision of the Constitution.
- Evolution of the System:
- First Judges Case (1981):
- It declared that the “primacy” of the CJI’s (Chief Justice of India) recommendation on judicial appointments and transfers can be refused for “cogent reasons.”
- The ruling gave the Executive primacy over the Judiciary in judicial appointments for the next 12 years.
- Second Judges Case (1993):
- SC introduced the Collegium system, holding that “consultation” really meant “concurrence”.
- It added that it was not the CJI’s individual opinion, but an institutional opinion formed in consultation with the two senior-most judges in the SC.
- Third Judges Case (1998):
- SC on the President's reference (Article 143) expanded the Collegium to a five-member body, comprising the CJI and four of his senior-most colleagues.
- First Judges Case (1981):
Who Heads the Collegium System?
- The SC collegium is headed by the CJI (Chief Justice of India) and comprises four other senior most judges of the court.
- A HC collegium is led by its Chief Justice and four other senior most judges of that court.
- Names recommended for appointment by a HC collegium reaches the government only after approval by the CJI and the SC collegium.
- Judges of the higher judiciary are appointed only through the collegium system and the government has a role only after names have been decided by the collegium.
What are the Procedures for Judicial Appointments?
- For CJI:
- The President of India appoints the CJI and the other SC judges.
- As far as the CJI is concerned, the outgoing CJI recommends his successor.
- In practice, it has been strictly by seniority ever since the supersession controversy of the 1970s.
- For SC Judges:
- For other judges of the SC, the proposal is initiated by the CJI.
- The CJI consults the rest of the Collegium members, as well as the senior-most judge of the court hailing from the High Court to which the recommended person belongs.
- The consultees must record their opinions in writing and it should form part of the file.
- The Collegium sends the recommendation to the Law Minister, who forwards it to the Prime Minister to advise the President.
- For Chief Justice of High Courts:
- The Chief Justice of the High Court is appointed as per the policy of having Chief Justices from outside the respective States.
- The Collegium takes the call on the elevation.
- High Court judges are recommended by a Collegium comprising the CJI and two senior-most judges.
- The proposal, however, is initiated by the outgoing Chief Justice of the High Court concerned in consultation with two senior-most colleagues.
- The recommendation is sent to the Chief Minister, who advises the Governor to send the proposal to the Union Law Minister.
What is Critical about the Collegium System?
- Opaqueness and a lack of transparency.
- Scope for nepotism.
- Embroilment in public controversies.
- Overlooks several talented junior judges and advocates.
What were Attempts to reform the Appointment System?
- The attempt made to replace it by a ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission’ (through Ninety-ninth Amendment Act, 2014) was struck down by the court in 2015 on the ground that it posed a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
- Filling up of vacancies is a continuous and collaborative process involving the executive and the judiciary, and there cannot be a time frame for it. However, it is time to think of a permanent, independent body to institutionalise the process with adequate safeguards to preserve the judiciary’s independence guaranteeing judicial primacy but not judicial exclusivity.
- It should ensure independence, reflect diversity, demonstrate professional competence and integrity.