Supreme Court Composition (1985-2010)

In a study which has been published in this week’s edition of the EPW (available here), I examined the composition of the Supreme Court of India between 1985 and 2010 (i.e. between the terms of Chief Justices P.N. Bhagwati and S.H. Kapadia). My study broadly yielded the following observations: (1) The age at which judges are appointed to the Supreme Court has increased – indicating that judges today on average serve shorter terms on the Supreme Court of India (see the discussion here regarding the 114th constitution amendment bill). (2) The percentage of the members of the court today who previously served as High Court Chief Justice has more than doubled from Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati’s time – and today Supreme Court judges are overwhelmingly picked from the pool of High Court Chief Justices; (3) The average tenure of Supreme Court judges as High Court Chief Justices has reduced – indicating that judges who make it to the Supreme Court serve shorter terms as High Court Chief Justice, and in fact, often this short period of time is spent as Chief Justice of more than one High Court (27% of the present court served as Chief Justice of more than one High Court); (4) There is some evidence that seats on the Supreme Court of India are shared on the basis of regional representation, and the High Courts of Bombay, Allahabad and Karnataka have over a twenty five year period witnessed the most consistent representation on the court (although, of late, Bihar and Delhi have shown similar trends). In the appendices I have set out the composition of the courts of each of 22 Chief Justices of India between 1985-2010 (including appointments, retirements, or in rare cases resignations/deaths during a Chief Justice’s term), and relevant biographical information concerning 127 judges who served on the court during that period which I collected for the study. The study makes no substantive claims about the Supreme Court of India, but only seeks to analyze its composition.

Written by
Abhinav Chandrachud
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