Govt not to fix tenure for HC chief justices


New Delhi, April 11: After long-drawn deliberations, the government has decided against recommending a one-year fixed tenure for chief justices of the high courts amid concerns that judges nearing retirement age may fail to land the job despite seniority and an impressive track record.

While drafting the revised memorandum of procedure, a document which guides appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts, the Department of Justice had proposed a two- year fixed term for HC chief justices.

A fixed long tenure, the department felt, would help chief justices concentrate on the administrative side of their duties like improving case management system.

But the fixed tenure was reduced to one year by the Law Ministry which thought two years was too long and hence not practical.

Judges are appointed as Chief Justices of high courts and elevated to the Supreme Court based mainly on their seniority. While retirement age for a Supreme Court judge is 65 years, it is 62 in high courts.

The issue of a fixed tenure came up for detailed discussion at one of the recent meetings of the Group of Ministers headed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj set up to finalise the document.

While some of the members of the GoM favoured a fixed tenure, others opposed the idea on the ground that those nearing the retirement age of 62 and having less than a year to go may lose out despite an impressive track record.

There was also a view that fixed tenure may give a “handle to certain judges to subvert the appointment of others,” a senior government functionary said.

The GoM finally decided to remove the fixed tenure clause from the memorandum of procedure. The revised document was handed over to the Chief Justice of India last month. The SC collegium comprising the CJI and four senior judges of the apex court will now have to ratify it before it replaces the present memorandum of procedure.

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The SC had last year asked government to redraft the MoP while deciding on ways to make the collegium system, where judges recommend appointment of judges, more transparent.

A Constitution Amendment Bill, brought by the previous UPA government, to increase the retirement age of high court judges to 65 to bring it at par with that of SC judges had lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. The retirement age of high court judges was raised from 60 to 62 in 1963.


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