Judicial Reforms

Non-Transparent Collegium, Is there any Alternative?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Appointment of Judges

Mains level : NJAC,Collegium system and related issues.



  • Once again, the Collegium of the Supreme Court of India is in the news, and once again for the wrong reasons. This time, it is because of the difficulty hat its five judges have in getting together for one meeting. Justice Chandrachud and Justice Nazeer withhold approval.Apparently, they do not object to the names but object to the procedure of circulation.

What is Collegium system?

  • The Collegium of judges is the Indian Supreme Court’s invention.
  • It does not figure in the Constitution, which says judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President and speaks of a process of consultation.
  • In effect, it is a system under which judges are appointed by an institution comprising judges.
  • After some judges were superseded in the appointment of the CJI in the 1970s, and attempts made subsequently to affect a mass transfer of High Court judges across the country.


What was the perception around Independence of judiciary under threat?

  • There was a perception that the independence of the judiciary was under threat. This resulted in a series of cases over the years.
  1. First Judges Case (1981): SC ruled that the “consultation” with the CJI in the matter of appointments must be full and effective. However, it rejected the idea that the CJI’s opinion, albeit carrying great weight, should have primacy.
  2. Second Judges Case (1993): Introduced the Collegium system, holding that “consultation” really meant “concurrence”. It added that it was not the CJI’s individual opinion, but an institutional opinion formed in consultation with the two senior-most judges in the Supreme Court.
  3. Third Judges Case (1998): On a Presidential Reference for its opinion, the Supreme Court, in the Third Judges Case (1998) expanded the Collegium to a five-member body, comprising the CJI and four of his senior-most colleagues.

What are the problems associated with collegium system?

  • Emphasis on Seniority principle: Collegium system emphasizes excessively on seniority.
  • No discussion on merit and objectivity: However, following the seniority convention offers a semblance of certainty and transparency, even though it takes away from selecting judges on other objective criteria such as merit and competence.
  • Collegium changes its own decision: At times, the sanctity of Collegium’s own decisions no longer stands. Its own previous decision to appoint other persons to the Supreme Court was reversed, without any explanation or justification.
  • Lack of procedure: Besides this, no one knows how judges are selected, and the appointments made reek of biases of self-selection and in-breeding.
  • Widely known Nepotism: Sons and nephews of previous judges or senior lawyers tend to be popular choices for judicial roles.
  • Lack of checks and balances: With its ad hoc informal consultations with other judges, which do not significantly investigate criteria such as work, standing integrity and so on, the Collegium remains outside the sphere of legitimate checks and balances.
  • Opaque system: The lack of a written manual for functioning, the absence of selection criteria, the arbitrary reversal of decisions already taken, the selective publication of records of meetings.


Collegium system is blessing in disguise

  • Protect independence of judiciary: The framers of the Constitution were alive to the likely erosion of judicial independence.
  • On May 23, 1949, K T Shah stated that the Judiciary, which is the main bulwark of civil liberties, should be completely separate from and independent of the Executive, whether by direct or by indirect influence.
  • NJAC Declared unconstitutional: In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a constitutional amendment for creating the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
  • Distrust on political executive: The SC strongly disapproved of any role for the political executive in the final selection and appointment of judges. The SC said that “reciprocity and feelings of payback to the political executive” would be disastrous to the independence of the judiciary.

What is National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC)?

  • What is NJAC?
  • guarantee the independence of the system from inappropriate politicisation,
  • Strengthen the quality of appointments,
  • Enhances the fairness of the selection process,
  • Promotes diversity in the composition of the judiciary, and
  • Rebuilds public confidence in the system.
  • NJAC was missed opportunity of reforms: The SC in its majority decision declared the NJAC unconstitutional and missed an opportunity to introduce important reformatory changes in the functioning of the judiciary.
  • Judicial majority could have been discussed: According to the experts, the Supreme Court could have read down the law, and reorganised the NJAC to ensure that the judiciary retained majority control in its decisions. However, it did not amend the NJAC Act to have safeguards that would have made it constitutionally valid.
  • No reforms in the collegium system: It also did not reform the Collegium in any way to address the various concerns voiced by one and all, including the Court itself, Instead, to the disappointment of all those who hoped for a strong, independent and transparent judiciary, it reverted to the old Collegium based appointments mechanism.



  • Appointments to the top court seem to be the preserve of judges from the High Court with a handful of appointments from the Bar. Surely some nodding acknowledgement should be given to a specific provision made by the founding fathers in the Constitution. Judges appointing the judges is not a sustainable practice for future of judiciary.

Mains Question

Q.What is NJAC? Why Collegium system is blessings in disguise? Explain the Collegium system of appointments.

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