Lawyers inside the Supreme Court complex in New Delhi, India. (Source: Supreme Court of India Website)

Supreme Court Judges Meet Chief Justice Over KM Joseph’s Seniority Issue

Judges of the Supreme Court today met Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and lodged their protest over the central government’s decision to lower the seniority of Justice KM Joseph, who is scheduled to take oath as an apex court judge along with two others tomorrow.

The judges, including Justices MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph, who are members of the five-member collegium, met the Chief Justice at the judges’ lounge before start of the day’s working, according to sources.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is the senior-most judge after the Chief Justice, was not present as he was on leave. Misra assured the judges that he would consult Justice Gogoi and take up the issue with the government, according to sources.

Besides the Chief Justice and Justices Gogoi, Lokur and Joseph, the fifth member of the Collegium is Justice AK Sikri.

The central government came out with the notification on the appointment of three judges to the apex court by putting at number three the seniority of Justice KM Joseph on Friday. The names of Justice Indira Banerjee, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, was at number one followed by that of Justice Vineet Saran, Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court in the notification.

It is the convention that seniority of the judges is determined in accordance with the order of names notified by the government. The warrants of appointment of the three judges were signed by the President on Aug. 3.

Also read: Government Notifies New Appointments To Supreme Court Bench

Justice Joseph, the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, headed a bench which had quashed the imposition of President’s Rule in the state in 2016. Uttarakhand was then under the Congress rule.

The collegium had on Jan. 10 recommended the name of Justice Joseph, along with that of senior advocate Indu Malhotra, for elevation to the apex court. However, the government had returned Justice Joseph’s name for reconsideration and gone ahead with the appointment of Justice Indu Malhotra.

The collegium had on May 16 in-principle reiterated the decision to recommend Justice Joseph’s name for elevation to the apex court. The recommendation was sent to the government in July and it was accepted.

The number of judges in the top court after the fresh appointments has gone up to 25. There are still six vacancies.

According to the collegium’s Jan. 10 resolution, when Justice Joseph’s name was recommended for elevation, “he stands at Sl. No. 45 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis”. According to the July 16 resolution of the collegium, Justice Banerjee was number four and Justice Saran stood at number five in the combined seniority of high court judges on all-India basis.

Justice Joseph’s elevation to the apex court put an end to a protracted stand-off between the government and the judiciary.

Justice Joseph became a high court judge in October 2004 and he was elevated as a Chief Justice of high court in July 2014. He will retire in June 2023 as a Supreme Court judge.

Justice Banerjee became a high court judge in February 2002 and was made a chief justice of high court in April last year. She would retire in September 2022.

Justice Saran became a high court judge in February 2002 and was made a chief justice of the high court in February 2016. He will retire as an apex court judge in May 2022.