What is a Typical SC Judge’s Career Path?
Data reveales that High Court judges who were advocates hold more Supreme Court positions than those from the subordinate judiciary.
In a previous post, we looked at the increase in the share of High Court (HC) judges who came from the subordinate judiciary. In this post, we look at the professional background of Supreme Court (SC) judges.
Supreme Court judges are usually appointed from two sources: directly from the bar or from among HC judges. High Court judges themselves may be appointed either from the bar or from the subordinate judiciary. So, we have counted three categories of SC judges: High Court judges who were advocates; High Court judges who were subordinate judges; and Advocates directly elevated to the Supreme Court.
In 1993, the method by which judges were appointed changed. Before this, the Union government appointed judges with the Chief Justice of India’s ‘concurrence’. There were no established rules on how the concurrence should be determined. In 1993, the Supreme Court held that a ‘collegium’ should be formed to make recommendations for appointing SC judges. This would comprise the Chief Justice and the 4 most senior judges of the SC. This change in the appointments process seems to have changed the odds of becoming an SC judge for different professional backgrounds.
Table 1 shows that High Court judges who were advocates hold more Supreme Court positions than those from the subordinate judiciary. While subordinate court judges were seldom appointed to the Supreme Court (19%) from 1950-1993, the collegium appointment process has diminished their numbers further (4.4%) from 1993-2021.
The post collegium appointment process has resulted in the elevation to the SC from the HC judges who were advocates (up by 14%) and advocates directly elevated from the Bar in greater numbers. There were only 3 direct elevations over 42 years before the collegium. After the collegium, there have been 6 direct elevations in 23 years.
Among the sitting SC judges, only Justice Bela M. Trivedi has served as a subordinate judge before her elevation to the Gujarat High Court. Justices U.U. Lalit and P. Narasimha were elevated directly from the Bar. The remaining 30 sitting judges of the Supreme Court were High Court judges who were advocates.