Published: 21st August 2021
What the FAQ: What is the Supreme Court Collegium and what is special about the next CJI?
The CJI recently chastised the media for speculations on the recommendations of the SC Collegium for positions at the apex court. Why was there such hue and cry about the process this time?
The Supreme Court of India has only had eight women judges appointed so far. Given that paltry figure, the country has never had a woman Chief Justice. The collegium’s decision this time around is bent on changing that. Here’s the low-down on the matter:
What is the Supreme Court Collegium?
The Supreme Court Collegium is a panel of the five senior-most judges of the apex court of India. It is headed by the sitting Chief Justice. Although the format has no official mention in the Constitution, it came about to help the Chief Justice recommend judges and advocates for promotions and appointments in the High Courts and the Supreme Court of the country. The Constitution states that the judges are to be appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of the country. The system of a collegium cropped up over the years to assist the Chief Justice in his list of recommendations. In October 1993, a nine-judge bench led by Justice JS Varma gave the CJI the option of consulting with senior judges in the Supreme Court before he submits his recommendations to the President. In 1998, the Supreme Court further clarified the process, providing explanations to the task of “consulting”, and restricting the CJI from taking sole decisions in the matter.
What makes the current collegium special?
Apart from Chief Justice NV Ramana, senior Justices UU Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao also constituted the collegium to recommend names for the next round of Supreme Court appointments. The SC currently has ten vacancies which need to be filled. The collegium created history this time around by recommending three women judges to the apex court, among the nine judges nominated — Justices Hima Kohli (Telangana), Bela M Trivedi (Gujarat), and BV Nagarathna (Karnataka). Out of the three, there is a high possibility that Justice Nagarathna may go on to become the first woman Chief Justice of the country in 2027. The SC CJI is selected based on seniority of the sitting judges of the apex court.
Who is Justice BV Nagarathna?
Justice BV Nagarathna is a Karnataka High Court judge, who joined the state's Bar Council in October 1987. She is 58 years old, and if elevated, she will assume the post of Chief Justice in 2027, but will only be able to hold it for about a month since the age of retirement from the SC is 65 years. Justice Nagarathna’s father, Justice ES Venkataramaiah had served as the Chief Justice of the SC in 1989. She has been vocal about the “sensational” reporting in the media, and the impact that might have on the “integrity of the nation.” She has also reprimanded protesting lawyers in the court who had detained her along with a fellow justice in 2009 at the Karnataka High Court.
Who are the other judges appointed?
The collegium recommended nine names in total. These included four sitting chief justices, from the states of Karnataka, Gujarat, Sikkim and Telangana. Chief Justice Hima Kohli from Telangana also holds the distinction of being the only sitting woman Chief Justice of a High Court. The list also includes High Court judges from Kerala, Karnataka, Madras and Gujarat. Senior Advocate PS Narasimha, who had served as Additional Solicitor General might become the ninth advocate only to be appointed directly to the SC as a judge.