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Appointment of Chief Justice of India

Justice Uday Umesh Lalit has been appointed as the 49th Chief Justice of India. He will only be the second CJI to have been appointed directly from the Supreme Court Bar Association, without serving as a judge of a high court.

India’s highest judicial post is the Chief Justice of India.

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) and the other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President under Article 124 (2) of the Indian Constitution.

Article 124 also says that appointment by the President is to be done “after consultation” with judges of the Supreme Court, as the President may “deem necessary”.

Article 217, which deals with the appointment of High Court judges, says the President should consult the CJI, Governor, and Chief Justice of the High Court concerned.

Qualifications– Apart from being an Indian citizen, the person to be appointed as the Chief Justice of India must

    1. Have been for at least 5 years a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession or
    2. Have been for at least 10 years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession, or
    3. Be, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist.

Collegium System – The more than two decades-old collegium system is followed in the appointment of judges, consisting of five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

The government gets a background inquiry done by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) at times from the names first suggested for appointment by the collegium.

While the government can also raise objections, usually the collegium’s will prevails.

The term “collegium” is not mentioned in the constitution, which only speaks of consultation by the President.

Given the ambiguity of the word “consult”, this method of appointment has often been challenged in the courts.

Seniority– Usually, the seniormost judge of the court after the chief justice (in terms of the years served) is recommended as the successor.

This convention was discarded by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who appointed Justice AN Ray as CJI in 1973 over his seniors.

According to the government’s Memorandum of procedure for the appointment of Supreme Court Judges, seniority is to be the norm.

The Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs seeks the recommendation of the outgoing CJI for appointing the next CJI.

After the collegium’s recommendations are finalised and received from the CJI, the Law Minister will put up the recommendation to the Prime Minister who will advise the President on the matter of appointment.


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