Court Data

Judges currently at the Supreme Court will serve an average tenure of 5.3 years

Half of the current Supreme Court judges will serve less than the average tenure of the judges in their cohort

Among the 34 sitting judges at the Supreme Court today, the average tenure is 5.3 years. 

Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, by virtue of his being the seniormost on the bench, is the longest serving judge among the current sitting judges at the Supreme Court. Out of his total 8.5 years in the top Court, he will serve two years as a Chief Justice. 

Justice Hima Kohli who will retire on 1 September this year, will be the one with shortest tenure in this cohort, with three years of service in the Supreme Court.

The above graph plots the number years each judge will serve at the top court, and is arranged in order of longest to shortest tenure. 17 out of 34 judges, i.e. half of the sitting judges, will serve for less than the average tenure, in comparison to their brothers and sister judges on the bench. 

Of the three women judges at the Supreme Court—all appointed by former CJI N.V. Ramana-led collegium, Justice B.V. Nagarathna is the only woman judge to surpass the average tenure. She is expected to serve 6.2 years. Applying the seniority principle in appointing Chief Justices, Justice Nagarathna will be the first woman CJI, but will hold the position for 36 days. 

The 11 women judges that have served at the top Court have an average tenure of 4.2 years, which makes the future woman CJI’s tenure an outlier. There has only been one other woman judge to serve over six years—Justice Ruma Pal. 

The other women judges, Justice Bela Trivedi and Justice Hima Kohli will serve 3.8 years and 3 years respectively.

Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah is the lone Muslim judge in Court and is expected to serve a tenure of 5.2 years. In the history of the Supreme Court there have only been 18 Muslim judges. They’ve served an average tenure of 4.2 years. Justice Amanullah too has a career above the average in comparison to previous judges from his community.

Justice A.G. Masih is the only Christian judge at the top court and will serve a tenure of 4.3 years—one year short of the average tenure of the current bench. The nine Christian judges to have ever served at the Supreme Court, have had an average service of 4.9 years. 

Why tenure matters

Tenure of Supreme Court judges has often been correlated to “institutional stability” and “precedential and administrative continuity.” Authors of Court on Trial, a book that examines the performance of the top court based on data, also argue that longer tenure will incentivise judges to reject post-retirement job offers from the Union government. Consequently, they are less likely to “pander to the government” during their time as judges.

Another significant point is that with a retirement age fixed at 65 by the Constitution, and with average life expectancy increasing, judges have more years of work left in them. It is also pertinent to note that until 2000, 12 judges passed away while in office, starting from the first CJI of India, H. J. Kania. But in the last 24 years, Justice Shantanagoudar was the only sitting judge to have died while still serving at the top Court.