Puisne Matters

A quick glance across the web page profiling former judges of the Supreme Court of India left me startled. The list of judges begins with (the famous) Justice Khanna, appointed in 1971, leaving all other judges appointed before him out. Names such as Fazl Ali, Vivian Bose, and indeed the “superceded” Shelat, Hegde and Grover, remain conspicuously absent from the list. Apparently, the desultory law student and deferential lawyer must look elsewhere for the academic or professional paths undertaken by some of the country’s finest former judges.

On the other hand, the list of former Chief Justices of India, from Kania to Sabharwal, seems to be complete; which leads me to my question:does this say something about our shared understanding of the judiciary in India? Chief Justices are administrative (but not judicial) superiors – but their position is still one of significant prominence in comparison to other justices. They enjoy considerable powers in the assignment of judicial work (each judge’s assignment is determined by the Chief Justice). Law students often observe that the Chief Justice’s courtrooms and chambers are ‘grander’ than the rest in the Supreme Court. Court staff often preface the words “Chief Justice” with the word “Honourable” while referring to him (I say “him” since the Supreme Court has not yet had a female Chief Justice, and the High Courts have had very few), while puisne judges don’t necessarily get the same treatment. Here’s a question: how many times has the Chief Justice of India been in dissent in the recent past? Without venturing into questions of controversy, it would be instructive to ask: does the Chief Justice of a court, whose office is arguably more visible than others’, rightly speak for the entire judiciary?

Written by
Abhinav Chandrachud
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  • No offence intended, but while the issue merits discussion, I am not sure that a comparison of the comprehensiveness of the lists of judges is any indication of the relative stature of the CJ vis-a-vis other judges on the Court. It could be anything from an administrative lapse to the ambitious conclusion proferred by the author that is the reason for the ommission.

  • One the question reminds of the a passage from 'Roses in December' where Justice Chagla has mentioned how the CJ was like karta of a hindu joint-family comprising of other judges.

  • well I think the entire system of appointment f CJI just on basis of experience is wrong. There may be a judge who has been elivated latter but is more competent. But our system is so far as this aspect is concerned highly undemocratic.
    Moreover, I think each year there must be a voting for election of CJI for next year. Is that not fair in democracy and this will lead to better judiciary and not monopoly.
    siddharth murarka
    Advocate High Court