Principle of Seniority & Collegium System


    In News 

    Chief Justice of India (CJI) U U Lalit has written to the government recommending his successor in the post, and as per the convention of seniority, Justice D Y Chandrachud will take over as the next CJI on November 9.


    • The collegium  which Justice Chandrachud will head , will potentially make as many as 18 recommendations for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. 
      • It will be an unusual collegium: instead of five members, it will have six.

    What is the Collegium?

    • The collegium system of appointing judges evolved through three significant verdicts of the Supreme Court, known as the First, Second, and Third Judges Cases. 
    • The Constitution of India does not mention the collegium system; however, these three cases established that the collegium headed by the Chief Justice of India will have primacy in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
    • The Supreme Court collegium is headed by the CJI and comprises four other senior-most judges of the court. 
    • This collegium makes recommendations to the government for appointment of judges to the SC and of Chief Justices of High Courts, and the transfers of HC judges.
    • A separate three-member collegium, headed by the CJI and comprising the two senior-most judges of the SC makes recommendations for appointment of judges to HCs.

    Who is in the collegium?

    • The ruling in the Third Judges Case, which gave legal backing to the current system of appointment of judges and created the collegium of the CJI and four senior-most judges, stated: “The principal objective of the collegium is to ensure that the best available talent is brought to the Supreme Court Bench. 
    • The Chief Justice of India and the senior-most puisne Judges, by reason of their long tenures on the Supreme Court, are best fitted to achieve this objective.”
    • Generally, one or more of the four senior judges in the collegium would be a potential CJI candidate. The next in line is considered important to ensure continuity of decision-making. 
      • For example, Justice Chandrachud, the senior-most judge after CJI Lalit, is part of the current collegium.
    • “Ordinarily, one of the four senior-most puisne Judges of the Supreme Court would succeed the Chief Justice of India, but if the situation should be such that the successor Chief Justice is not one of the four senior-most puisne Judges, he must invariably be made part of the collegium. 
      • The Judges to be appointed will function during his term and it is right that he should have a hand in their selection.
    • However, in the two-year tenure of Justice Chandrachud as CJI, a potential CJI candidate is unlikely to be in the collegium until May 2023.

    What is a 5+1 collegium?

    • Given the order of seniority, a potential CJI will enter the Chandrachud collegium only in May 2023. However, Justice Khanna will be the sixth member of the collegium from November 9, 2022 itself.
    • This happened earlier in 2007 — when then CJI K G Balakrishnan took the top office, the collegium he headed did not have a potential CJI candidate. 
    • Justice S H Kapadia, who was next in line to be CJI, was invited to the collegium as the sixth member.