The appointment of judges has always been a hotly contested issue, and has attracted widespread media attention. Among judges from the Supreme Court, those get elevated directly from their legal practice are referred to as ‘Bar Judges’.
Until 2014, out of a total of 210 judges, only 4 had been Bar Judges. This number has risen to 8 in 2020. In this article, we would be talking about who these eight judges are.
Criteria for Appointment of a Judge
As per Article 124(3) of the Constitution, an Indian citizen must meet wither of the three criteria to be appointed as a Supreme Court judge:
a) be a High Court Judge for at least 5 years;
b) be an advocate of a High Court for at least 10 years; or,
c) be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the President.
1. Justice Sarv Mitra Sikri
Justice S.M. Sikri was the first lawyer to be appointed directly to the Supreme Court. He eventually went on to become the 13th Chief Justice of India. There are rumours that Justice Sikri was not to be appointed Chief Justice due to his strained relationship with the ruling party.
One interesting fact is that under Justice Sikri as CJI, the case of Keshavananda Bharti was decided. There are many stories about the judgment, about how the Bench was divided, about how the executive wanted to control the outcome.
But as Sanjoy Ghose writes in this riveting article, “Sikri did manage to redeem the day with his greatest contribution to India’s constitutional history.”
2. Justice Subimal Chandra Roy
Justice S.C. Roy used to practice at the Calcutta High Court before he was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1971. His tenure as a judge was for a short period, merely 4 months.
3. Justice Kuldip Singh
Justice Kuldip Singh was Singh was appointed to the Supreme Court on 14 December 1988. Before that, he had been the Advocate General of Punjab and subsequently Additional Solicitor General of India. He was one of the judges in the 2nd Judges Case. which gave primacy to opinion of the Chief Justice of India for appointing judges.
Abhinav Chandrachud has written that in 2nd Judges case, Justice Singh made a subtle referrence about him not being appointed the CJI. The background to this story is that Justice Singh and Justice A.M. Ahmadi were appointed to the Supreme Court on the same day.
Justice Ahmadi had been a judge of the Gujarat High Court before his appointment while Justice Singh had been an Advocate. Thus, despite the fact that Justice Singh was two months senior to Justice Ahmadi, the latter was made the CJI, for the alleged reason that primacy must be given to a Judge as compared to a direct elevation.
4. Justice Santosh Hegde
Justice Hegde was the Advocate General for Karnataka and subsequently the Additional Solicitor General of India.
He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1999, and he retired in 2004.
He was appointed as a Lokayukta for the state of Karnataka, and had also joined the Anna Hazare movement in 2011, but left if after it became political.
5. Justice Rohinton Nariman
From 1999 to 2014 there had been no appointments directly from the Bar. Rohinton Nariman’s appointment in 2014 came after a period of fifteen years of there being no ‘Bar Judges’. Before being elevated, he was practising before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
Justice Nariman is considered to be one of the sharpest judges of the Court and the number of tales to his name would merit another post (or rather, a book).
Alongwith Mr. Nariman, senior advocated Gopal Subramanium was also recommended to be elevated to the Supreme Court. However, he opted out of the process after the Government sent his name back for reconsideration.
6. Justice UU Lalit (August 2014)
Justice Lalit was elevated in 2014, after Mr. Gopal Subramanium opted out of the process. He joined the bar in June 1983, and had worked with former Attorney General for India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee. He is likely to become the Chief Justice of India in 2022.
7. Justice Lavu Nageswara Rao
Justice L. Nageswara Rao is the 7th ‘Bar Judge’. He was elevated in 2016. Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, he was a Senior Counsel and served as the Additional Solicitor General of India for two terms.
8. Justice Indu Malhotra
Indu Malhotra is the first woman lawyer to be directly elevated to the Supreme Court. Prior to that, she was the second woman to be designated as Senior Counsel by the Supreme Court. She was elevated in 2018, and has presided over several important cases.
As of today, there are only 2 women SC judges (out of a total of 34 judges). Something to definitely think about.
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