Supreme Court of India
The distinct feature of Indian judiciary is that it is a single unified integrated judicial system for the whole country. A single judiciary represents a hierarchy of courts. The Supreme Court stands at the top of this single integrated judicial system with High Courts at the State level.
Below the High Courts, there are several subordinate courts such as the District Courts which deal with civil cases and the Session Courts which decide criminal cases.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority of India.
Supreme Court of India came into existence on 26th January 1950.
It consists of the Chief Justice and 30 other judges.
The Parliament may increase the number of judges if it deems necessary.
To begin with, besides the Chief Justice, there were only 7 other judges.
Parliament has increased the number of judges from time to time.
The Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President of India.
While appointing the Chief Justice, the President is constitutionally required to consult such other judges of the Supreme Court as he deems proper, but outgoing Chief Justice is always consulted.
Normally, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court is appointed as the Chief Justice of India, although there is no constitutional requirement to do so.
While appointing other judges, the President is bound to consult the Chief Justice and other senior judges, if he deems proper.
Whenever there is vacancy or a likely vacancy in the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice and four other senior most judges consider various names and recommend the names of the persons to be appointed as judges of the Supreme Court.
This system is based on a ruling of the Constitutional Bench of a Supreme Court (handed down in 1993 and reinforced in 1999).
Thus, while the Constitution still provides that the President is the appointing authority of the Supreme Court judges, the ruling of the Supreme Court, has since 1999, become virtually binding on the President.
The power of selection of judges has passed on to a group of Supreme Court judges, called the Collegium of the Court.
The President now performs the formality of appointing the nominee of the Supreme Court, after the Law Ministry formally recommends these names to him.
The proceedings of the Supreme Court are conducted in English only.
Qualifications, Tenure, and Removal of Judges
A person is qualified for appointment as a judge only he/she is a citizen of India and if he/she fulfills one of the following conditions:
[a] he/she has been for at least five years a Judge of a High Court or two or more than two such courts; or
[b] he/she has been for at least ten years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more than two such courts; or
[c] he/she is, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist.
A person appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court, before entering upon his office, has to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation before the President, or some person appointed by him for this purpose.
The Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court hold office till they attain the age of 65 years.
A judge may voluntarily resign before expiry of his term.
In exceptional cases, a Supreme Court judge may be removed before the age of retirement, according to the procedure laid down in the Constitution.
Thus a judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from office by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of the Parliament supported by a majority of total membership of the House and not less than two-thirds majority of the members of the House present and voting, passed in the same session, has been presented to the President for such removal on the ground of proved misbehavior or capacity.
So far, proceedings for removal were initiated only in one case against a judge of the Supreme Court. But he/she could not be removed because the resolution could not be passed by the Parliament.
It is clear that Supreme Court judges enjoy the security of tenure, and the executive cannot arbitrarily remove them.
No person who has held the office of a judge of the Supreme Court is allowed to plead as an advocate in any court or before any authority within the territory of India.
The judges of the Supreme Court are paid such salaries as are determined by the Parliament from time to time.
A person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court is debarred from practising in any court of law or before any other authority in India.
Ad hoc Judge
When there is a lack of quorum of the permanent judges to hold or continue any session of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India can appoint a judge of a High Court as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court for a temporary period.
He can do so only after consultation with the chief justice of the High Court concerned and with the previous consent of the president.
The judge so appointed should be qualified for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.
Independence of Supreme Court—
The judges of the Supreme Court are provided with the Security of Tenure. They can be removed from office by the President only in the manner and on the grounds mentioned in the Constitution.
The salaries, allowances, privileges, leave and pension of the judges of the Supreme Court are determined from time to time by the Parliament. They cannot be changed to their disadvantage after their appointment except during a financial emergency.
The Constitution prohibits any discussion in Parliament or in a State Legislature with respect to the conduct of the judges of the Supreme Court in the discharge of their duties, except when an impeachment motion is under consideration of the Parliament.
The Supreme Court can punish any person for its contempt.
The Chief Justice of India can appoint officers and servants of the Supreme Court without any interference from the executive.
The Parliament is not authorized to curtail the jurisdiction and powers of the Supreme Court.
A Court of Record–
The Supreme Court is a Court of Record.
It has two implications.
All its decisions and judgments are cited as precedents in all courts of the country.
They have the force of law and are binding on all lower courts, including the High Courts.
As a Court of Record, the Supreme Court can even send a person to jail who may have committed contempt of the court.