How is a Supreme Court judge selected? The process behind elevation to India’s highest judiciary

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New Delhi | Published: April 26, 2018 5:25:08 PM

At centre stage in the ongoing war of words between the ruling and Opposition parties over the Centre's reported refusal to clear the name of Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High court Justice KM Joseph for elevation as a judge of the Supreme Court.

How is a Supreme Court judge selected? The process of elevation to India?s highest judiciary. (PTI)

At centre stage in the ongoing war of words between the ruling and Opposition parties over the Centre’s reported refusal to clear the name of Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High court Justice KM Joseph for elevation as a judge of the Supreme Court is the top court’s collegium that is tasked with the responsibility of recommending names for appointment to the Supreme Court and high courts.

Supreme Court is the top and highest institution India and its decisions are the final word on an appeal of an accused. It has the power to review the Constitution and this makes it the guardian of the Constitution. It has immense powers in the form of original, appellate and advisory jurisdictions.

Eligibility to become a Supreme Court judge

To become a judge of the Supreme court, an individual should be an Indian citizen. The norms relating to the eligibility has been envisaged in the Article 124 of the Indian Constitution. In terms of age, a person should not exceed 65 years of age. The article further laid out that to become elevated as a judge of the top court, a person should serve as a judge of one high court or more (continuously), for at least five years or the person should be an advocate in the High court or the Supreme court for at least 10 years or a distinguished jurist.

The procedure of an appointment

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) and the other judges of the highest judiciary are appointed by the President of India under the Article 124 (2) of the Constitution.

Selection procedure of Chief Justice of India

The senior-most judge of the Supreme court is generally considered for holding the office of the Chief Justice of India. When the incumbent CJI is about to retire, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company affairs use to seek the recommendation of the CJI to appoint the next CJI. After receiving the recommendation of the CJI, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company affairs forward the issue to the Prime Minister who will further move the proposal to the President of India for the final approval.

Selection procedure of other judges in SC

The selection of the other judges in the top court comes when there is any vacancy. If a judge is about to retire or retires, then the CJI initiates the proposal and sends the recommendation to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company affairs to fill up the seat. The recommendation of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for the appointment of a Judge of the Apex Court should be formed in consultation with a collegium of the four seniormost Judges of the Supreme Court. After acknowledging the views of the four judges, the CJI sends the proposal for appointment to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company affairs, which forwards it to the Prime Minister who further moves the proposal to the President of India for the final approval. After the assent of the President, the Secretary to the Department of Justice is set to announce the appointment and issue the circular in the Gazette of India.

Role and composition of the collegium

The of the Supreme Court collegium consists of the four senior-most judges and the Chief Justice. The collegium of the five judges is responsible for a major role in the Indian judiciary which includes the appointment and transfer of the judges of the High Court and the appointment of the Supreme Court judges.

What is the current controversy about?

The highest institution judiciary in the country, however, finds itself in the middle of a bitter fight — one between political parties and another from within. Earlier in January, CJI Dipak Misra came under fire after four senior judges of the Supreme Court led an open revolt against him. On January 12, 2018, four senior judges of the Supreme court – Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Kurien Joseph and Madan B Lokur – mounted a revolt against the Chief Justice, listing a litany of problems that they said are afflicting the country’s highest court and warned they could destroy Indian democracy.

On Thursday, the government asked the collegium to reconsider the recommendation to elevate Justice KM Joseph as a judge of the top court which evoked a sharp reaction from the opposition parties. In a tweet, Congress leader P Chidambaram said that the recommendation of the collegium was final and binding in the appointment of judges. “Is the Modi government above the law,” Chidambaram tweeted. “What is holding up Justice K M Joseph’s appointment? His state, or his religion or his judgement in the Uttarakhand case?”

Another Congress leader and senior lawyer Kapil Sibal said, “Collegium had stated that Justice Kurian Joseph is highly deserving of elevation. The SC website had released a notification of the same. Why is his position of not elevated by the central government?”

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