THE THREE JUDGES' CASE

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THE THREE JUDGES CASE- THE SUPREME COURT IS THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL BODY OF LAW IN OUR COUNTRY. IT CAN BE SAID TO BE THE DECIDING FORCE IN INDIAN JUDICIARY.

We all might have heard the term “collegium” which can be defined as a set of people, each having the same power and sharing an equal pedestal. But in Indian Judiciary system, collegium can be defined as a system which says that judges for the Supreme Court of India will be appointed by the existing judges of the Supreme Court. To understand the collegium in our judiciary in a better way, let us go to the source of this system, the THREE JUDGES CASE. The landmark judgement of this case clears out for us the method of selection of the judges for the Supreme Court.

Articles 124 and Article 217 enshrined in the Indian Constitution refer to the procedure for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts respectively. The above-mentioned articles say that the judges of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and other judges already a part of the Supreme Court. Article 217 of the Constitution says that judges to the High Court will be appointed by the President in consultation with Chief Justice of India, the Governor of the required state and the Chief Justice of the specific High Court. In 1973, the apex court gave a historic verdict in the form of Kesavananda Bharti v State of Kerala, which established the system of basic structure doctrine. This verdict led to a lot of disagreements and in a nut shell, did not get a complete acceptance from the country. In a 7-judge bench, there was just one vote od dissent by Justice Nath Ray. In April, Justice Nath was made the CJI, heading the apex court even though he was not the senior most judge then in the court as there three more judges who preceded him in position. These three were the ones who had ruled in favour of the basic structure doctrine. This was considered to be a blunt blow on the independence of the Indian Judicial system by the Executive. The whole country was faced with the question that who actually decides the appointment of judges in the apex court, the executive or the judiciary. The growing tensions led to the Supreme Court passing the verdict by a narrow margin of 4-3 wherein it held that-

• the word “consultation” mentioned in Article 124 and Article 217 of the Constitution is not synonymous to concurrence.

• It also said that in case of dissent or disagreement, the ultimate power would be in the hands of the Union Government and not the CJI. This verdict came to be known as the FIRST JUDGES CASE. But, in 1993, the first judges’ case was referred to another bench, where the Supreme Court overruled the before judgement in SCARA Vs Union of India and said that-

• In any event of conflict between executive and the judiciary, the judiciary (CJI) would have a final say of primary importance, more than the Government.

• The most important pillar of our judiciary, “COLLEGIUM SYSTEM” also came into force in the 1993 verdict. It said that the CJI and the two most senior judges of the SC or HC depending on the case concerned would collectively decide for a case.

• CJI would have the final say and the President’s recommendation would be non-binding. This came to be known as the SECOND JUDGES CASE. But again, in 1998, the apex court continued with the Collegium system but expanded the collegium to include the CJI and four senior most judges. This was the THIRD JUDGES CASE. Hence, the collegium now comprises of five members, the Chief Justice of the concerned court who also heads the collegium and four senior most judges of the court. The CJI is always appointed on the basis of positional seniority which means that the senior most judge will be appointed as the CJI. This system has proved well for the independence of Indian Judiciary. Even though there is still a need for transparency in the procedure for appointment of judges but the three judges case has definitely made the process a little less prone to the attacks made on the spirit of democracy in the Indian Judiciary.