AK Gopalan

Chief Justice of India

The term Chief Justice of India refers to the highest judge in the Supreme Court of India. This also makes it the highest judicial position obtainable by a judge in India. The Chief Justice not only heads the administrative functions of the Supreme Court but also sits actively as a presiding judge in Court No. 1 of the Supreme Court of India.

On the administrative side, the Chief Justice carries out the following functions;

  • allocation of matters to various other judges of the Supreme Court
  • maintenance of roaster
  • appointment of court officials
  • general and other miscellaneous matters relating to supervision and functioning of the Supreme Court.

As the chief judge, the Chief Justice is also responsible for the allocation of cases and appointment of constitutional benches which deal with important matters of law. In terms of Article 145 of the Constitution of India and the Supreme Court Rules of Procedure of 1966, the Chief Justice allocates the work to the other judges who are bound to refer the matter to him in case they require the matter to be looked into by a bench of higher strength.

Appointment of Chief Justice of India

Under the Constitution of India, in terms of Article 124 the manner of appointment of the judges to the Supreme Court was provided. However there was no specific provision as to the appointment of the Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. Therefore the process for the appointment of the judges to the Supreme Court was followed for the Chief Justice as well. This in practice meant that the most senior judge in the Supreme Court would be proposed by the Government of India to the President who would approve the same and thus the Chief Justice would be appointed. Here seniority did not mean the age but meant the seniority within the Supreme Court. Therefore the judge with the most experience in the Supreme Court was generally nominated by the Government and he would be appointed as the Chief Justice.

However this convention was breach on a number of occasions, most notable of which was the appointment of Chief Justice A.N. Ray who was appointed as the Chief Justice superseding three judges who were senior to him. This was done during the time when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. This was allegedly done as he was considered liberal and understood to be supporting the government in its actions and Indira Gandhi, who at that times was facing constitutional crisis, with her appointment being challenged by activist Raj Narain and major legal barriers remained to her continuance as the Prime Minister.

After the Emergency, the Supreme Court in a _An_Assertive_Supreme_Court conferred a lot of powers to itself. One of these was the declaration (in the constitutional bench S.P. Gupta - II case) that the Government of India would be bound to nominate only the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court for the position of Chief Justice, thereby ruling out any possible abuse by the Government or its ability to influence the judiciary. Since then the convention has been followed without any exceptions.

Once appointed, the Chief Justice remains in office until his retirement or unless removed by impeachment or by resignation.


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