ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Glass Ceiling in the High Courts

While the Constitution makes no distinction between judges appointed from the Bar or from the subordinate judiciary, the data shows that there is an implicit difference that results in fewer members from the subordinate judiciary serving in the high courts for shorter periods of time, and less likely to be the chief justices.

In an earlier article, I looked at a data set of 601 serving judges of high courts in India (in 2016) to identify the link between the manner of appointment and the lack of diversity in the higher judiciary in India (Kumar 2016). The data showed that judges from the subordinate courts were appointed later, had shorter terms, and therefore were unlikely to become chief justices or have sufficient seniority to serve on the collegium of high court judges, which make nominations for appointment to the high court. The data then showed that, on average, there was a seven-year gap in the ages at which an appointee from the Bar and a judge of the subordinate courts became a judge of the high court (Kumar 2016). This had major implications on the appointment of judges as only three out of the hundred senior-most judges were the ones elevated from the subordinate judiciary. This, I argued, results in the lack of diversity in the high courts as the most diverse pool of applicants—from the subordinate judiciary—are less represented and have little opportunity to influence future appointments.

Since the publication of the article, know your high court judges database (KHOJ Database) has been made public. It contains details of more than 1,700 high court judges appointed from 1993 to 2021. The database captures 43 separate data points about each judge and includes the source of appointment as well.1 This is a much larger data set and covers the entire set of high court judges appointed under the collegium system of appointments. In this article, I propose to use this data set to look at the prospects of judges appointed from the subordinate judiciary (called “service judges” in the KHOJ Database) when they were elevated to the high court. Given the time period over which the appointments in this database were made, it gives us a good sense of how the collegium system has worked in the context of appointments to the high courts. It will tell us whether the collegium system by itself reduces the opportunities for judges from the subordinate judiciary.

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Updated On : 17th Oct, 2022
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