This article on ‘Collegium System of Appointment of Judges in India’ was written by Ayush Choudhary, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The collegium system of appointment of judges in India is the process of appointing judges to the Higher Courts in the country. This system is unique to India, and it was introduced after the controversial Supreme Court decision in the case of “Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India”. This landmark judgement brought about a major change in the way judges were appointed in the Higher Courts of India, and from that date, till today the same system has been used for the appointment of judges.
The collegium system is a process of appointment of judges to the Higher Courts. Here, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) (currently Hon’ble Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud) is the head of the collegium, and he/she is assisted by four more senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. The function of the collegium is to recommend the names of judges who are capable of being appointed to the Higher Courts, including the Hon’ble Supreme Court and various High Courts. This system of appointment of judges is widely considered to be a major pillar of Indian democracy, as the judges appointed through this system are considered to be more independent and impartial.
The history of the collegium system dates back to the 1990s when the Supreme Court held in the “Judges Transfer Case” that the power to transfer judges rests with the CJI of India. This decision led to various conflicts and unrest and as a result, this was challenged by the government in the parliament, which further led to the creation of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) through the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2014.
The NJAC was set up to replace the collegium system and give the government a role in the appointment of judges. Thus, this act clearly was in favour of the government and not the Judiciary. But, thereafter realising the need and benefits of the collegium system it was restored in 2015, following a unanimous judgement by the Supreme Court in the case of “Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India”.
Advantages of Collegium System:
The advantages of the collegium system are many.
Firstly, it ensures that judges are appointed on the basis of merit and not on the basis of political affiliation or any other extraneous considerations, which lead to the appointment of undeserving candidates. Moreover, in a country like India, where there is a significant degree of corruption and nepotism, such a system needs to be established.
Secondly, the system ensures that judges remain independent and impartial, as they are not beholden to any particular interest group or political party. This is essential for upholding the rule of law and maintaining public confidence in the judiciary. Then only the main purpose of establishing a Judiciary will be achieved, that is Justice. Thirdly, the system ensures that appointments are made promptly, as the collegium is directly responsible for the appointment of judges. This is particularly important because of the large number of vacancies that exist in the Higher Courts in India.
Like every other system, the collegium system also has both pros and cons. And thus, the collegium system also faces some criticism which is as follows.
One of the main criticisms of the system is that it lacks transparency, that is, the appointments made by the collegium are not subject to any sort of public scrutiny, and apart from this, there is very little information available about the process of appointment. That is, the eligibility criterion and other important factors of appointment are not known. As a result, this lack of transparency has led to allegations of cronyism and nepotism.
Secondly, the system has been criticized for being too elitist, as it tends to favour judges from the elite segments of society. This has led to many deserving candidates being overlooked in favour of those with better connections. Therefore, instead of removing favouritism, this system promotes that. Lastly, the collegium system has been criticized for not providing adequate representation to marginalized communities such as women, Dalits, and minorities, because under this system mostly the man with good connections and once who belong to the elite group is given preference by the collegium and appointed.
Thus, we can see that though this system is beneficial there are also many problems attached to it and thus in order to address these criticisms, there have been calls for reforming the collegium system.
One proposed reform is to make the appointment process more transparent by making information about the appointments public. That is, what are the various eligibility criteria for the appointment? This would include information about the qualifications of the candidates, the reasons for their selection, and the criteria used in the selection process.
Apart from this, another proposed reform is to diversify the collegium by including members from outside the judiciary. This would ensure that the process of appointment is more representative and inclusive. This proposal has been particularly important in light of the fact that the Supreme Court has had very few female judges over the years.
So, we can see that the collegium appointment system has both benefits and disadvantages. And because of some disadvantages of it, we cannot neglect its benefits. Thus, it will not be right to completely part away this system we should instead focus on improving this system by following ways-
- First, the collegium system and its working process should be transparent.
- Members of the collegium should not be from the same background; thus, there should be some diversity among the members.
The collegium system of appointment of judges is an essential component of Indian democracy. It ensures that judges are appointed on merit and remain independent and impartial. However, the system has been criticized for its lack of transparency, elitism, and inadequate representation of marginalized communities and many more. Thus, instead of completely parting away the whole collegium system we should try to resolve the problems it has. Thus, there is a need to reform the system to make it more transparent, inclusive, and representative. A more transparent and diverse system of appointment would go a long way in improving the public perception and trust in the Indian judiciary.
- Deepshika Garg, Collegium System in India, Retrieved: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3681-collegium-system-in-india.html
- Sumit Arora, What is Supreme Court Collegium System in India?, Retrieved: https://currentaffairs.adda247.com/what-is-supreme-court-collegium-system-in-india/
- Collegium System for the appointment of Judges, Retrieved:https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/collegium-system-for-the-appointment-of-judges-2
- Anna Fernandes, What is the Collegium System and how does it work?, Retrieved: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/explained-what-is-the-collegium-system-and-how-does-it-work-1168118.html
 Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India (1993) 4 SCC 441
 K.Ashok Reddy vs Government of India (1994) AIR 1207