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Collegium System, Meaning, Appointment, Evolution & Criticism

Collegium System

Under the Collegium System, the Chief Justice of India and the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court convene a forum to decide on appointments of judges and lawyers to the Supreme Court as well as transfers of judges to the High Courts and Apex Court. The Collegium is not mentioned in either the original Indian Constitution or any subsequent revisions. The Collegium System is an important part of Indian Polity which an important subject in UPSC Syllabus. Students can also go for UPSC Mock Test to get more accuracy in their preparations.

Collegium System Meaning

In India, the Collegium System is in charge of selecting new judges and transferring outgoing justices. ‘Judges selecting judges’ are employed by the collegium. The Supreme Court rulings known as the “Three-Judges Cases” serve as the system’s cornerstone. In India, a system or organisation is either established through a law enacted by the Parliament or through provisions made in the nation’s Constitution. However, the Collegium System is one of its kind. Its beginnings are due to the judgements listed above. It has developed from them.

The Chief Justice of India and the four SC judges having the maximum seniority make up the Supreme Court Collegium. The four most senior judges of the HC, along with the Chief Justice, make up the High Court Collegium. The High Court Collegium first submits the candidates for approval to the Supreme Court Collegium. The names do not reach the Government of India until they have been given the CJI and SC’s Collegium’s mark of approval. The GoI can send the names back for further consideration; however, if the Collegium reiterates the names, the GoI must grant the request and approve the appointment of the individuals.

Collegium System for Appointment of Judges

The Collegium System, which arose as a result of Supreme Court decisions rather than an Act of Parliament or a Constitutional provision, is the system for choosing judges. The government only gets involved once the collegium has decided on names.

  • The Chief Justice and four of the most senior judges make up the Supreme Court Collegium.
  • High Court collegium: four of the justices with the highest experience and the Chief Justice.

In accordance with this system of judicial selection, the collegium will recommend names of candidates to the Central Government. The names of the nominees will also be forwarded by the national government for public discussion. Because there is no predetermined time limit, the appointment process takes a long time. The government must approve the names if the Collegium sends them again with the same name.

Collegium System Evolution

The Indian Constitution was approved on January 26, 1950, and in accordance with its provisions, the Chief Justice of India was chosen by the President of the nation, and the Supreme Court judges were chosen after consulting the CJI. The following stages make up the creation of the Collegium:

CJI’s Appointment (1950-73)

Both the nation’s administration and the CJI were in agreement with one another. A convention was established for the selection of the senior Supreme Court justice.  As Justice AN Ray had replaced three more senior Supreme Court justices, the appointment of AN Ray as the CJI in 1973 broke this tradition. When a new CJI was appointed in 1977 after one of his seniors had been replaced, this infringement was once more noted. These offences led to a conflict between the country’s judicial and executive branches.

First Judge’s Case (1982)

The Supreme Court received a petition in 1982 that would later become known as the S.P. Gupta Case or First Judges case. The meaning and implications of the phrase “consultation” in article 124, which defines the appointment process, were two key topics covered during the case’s hearings. The Supreme Court rejected the theory that assumed “concurrence” was the meaning. The SC’s consultation was not required for the president to make his decision.  The SC ruled that the High Court justices could be transferred from any state court to any other state court, even against their choice.

Second Judge’s Case (1993)

The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCARA) filed another appeal with the Supreme Court in 1993.  The SC overturned the prior ruling and changed the definition of “consultation” to “concurrence,” making it mandatory for the President to contact the CJI before appointing judges. The Collegium System was created as a result of the earlier decision being reversed.

Third Judge’s Case (1998)

Articles 124, 217, and 22 of the Indian Constitution, which are references to the Supreme Court made by the President, sparked new debate over the definition of “consultation” in 1998. The Chief Justice of India will not be the only person involved in the consultation process; there will also be a collegium made up of four of the Supreme Court’s most senior judges. The Chief Justice of India cannot offer recommendations to the government if there is even a 2-judge disagreement. The Collegium System of India was created with the following provisions for the appointment of judges.

Collegium System

The Collegium would submit suggestions for the Central Government’s selection of judges. The Collegium may also receive candidates from the federal government for recommendation. Since there are no provisions defining a time limit for the appointment process, it takes a considerable amount of time.  The Central Government will have to approach the Collegium if it sends the Collegium’s report back for further review but the latter makes no modifications to it.

Collegium System vs. National Judicial Appointment Commission

The Collegium System was intended to be replaced by the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). The following has been explored regarding their variations;

National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Collegium System
The NJAC is an organisation that was suggested by the NJAC bill, and its provisions would have been in accordance with Article 124A of the Constitution. Since the ‘Three-Judges Cases’ gave rise to the Collegium System and it evolved from them, it has been in existence. The Constitution doesn’t make reference to it.
The NJAC would have had the Executive’s participation in the selection of the judges. The Collegium does not interfere in this way. It sought to maintain the separation of the Executive from the Judiciary in order to preserve the independence of the latter.
The members would have been;

  • The Chief Justice of India (ex-officio, Chairperson of the NJAC)
  • Two senior Supreme Court judges (ex-officio)
  • The Union Minister of Law and Justice (ex-officio)
  • Two eminent people to be chosen by a specific committee
The members of the SC Collegium are;

  •  The Chief Justice of India
  • Four Senior Supreme Court judges

The members of the HC Collegium are;

  • The Chief Justice of the HC
  • Four Senior High Court judges
People outside of the judiciary would have a voice in the judge’s appointment. The Indian Judiciary’s top and most senior members made the choices, and those rulings had to be followed. The GoI can’t get involved.


Collegium System Criticism

The Indian constitution does not mention the Collegium as a system, body, or word. It is a system that has developed as a result of court decisions and proceedings (three-judge cases), and it keeps all authority with the judges alone. Since there are no free and transparent elections to choose the judges, the collegium’s appointment of judges does not follow a democratic process. Little to no accountability is shown to the nation’s citizens.

Transparency is lacking in the process. There is no established official selection process. Since it is not a constitutional body, there are no formal operating guidelines or manuals. The judges’ eligibility is not predetermined. The judiciary has a lengthy history of nepotism, which has been noted. Sons and nephews of former judges or experienced solicitors have frequently been selected for top judicial positions. In the judiciary, the collegium thus supports mediocrity and heredity over merit.

The collegium has not been able to stop the rising number of cases and openings for judges. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Second Judge’s case (1993), which stated: o Seniority among Judges in their High Courts and on an all-India basis is important and should be taken into consideration while making these recommendations to the Supreme Court, is not consistent with the recent supersession in appointment.

Collegium System UPSC

The collegium will suggest candidates to the Central Government under this procedure of appointing judges. The names of the suggested candidates will also be sent by the national government for consultation. There is no set time restriction for the appointment process, thus it takes a long time. The government must approve the names if the Collegium sends them again with the same name. Students can read all the details related to UPSC by visiting the official website of StudyIQ UPSC Online Coaching.

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Collegium System FAQs

What is called collegium system?

It is a system under which appointments and transfers of judges are decided by a forum of the Chief Justice of India and the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.

What is collegium system in Supreme Court?

Like the Supreme Court, the high courts, too, have a Collegium, headed by the chief justice of the high court and two senior-most judges as members.

What is the work of collegium system in India?

The Chief Justice of India along with four senior-most Supreme Court judges recommends appointments and transfers of judges.

What is the purpose of Collegium?

It is the system of appointment and transfer of judges that has evolved through judgments of the Supreme Court, and not by an Act of Parliament or by a provision of the Constitution.

Who forms the Collegium?

The Collegium System of Supreme Court is headed by the CJI (Chief Justice of India).

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