Supreme Court's Seniority Norm: Historical Origins
Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVII, No. 8, February 25, 2012
5 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2012
Date Written: February 25, 2012
Between 1950-2011, thirty-eight Chief Justices have served on the Supreme Court of India. The overwhelming majority of these men became Chief Justice by the norm of seniority, i.e. an unwritten practice which dictates that when the Chief Justice of India retires, the most senior associate judge on the court at the time becomes the next Chief Justice of India. But what is the source of the seniority norm, i.e. did it have historical origins or was it a contemporary innovation? This paper seeks to answer this question by empirically investigating whether the seniority norm existed prior to the establishment of the Supreme Court of India – specifically, on the High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Allahabad, Patna, or on the Federal Court of India. I find weak evidence for the existence of the seniority norm on the Allahabad and Patna High Courts, and on the Federal Court of India.
Keywords: Supreme Court of India, seniority, Indian judges, Indian judiciary, Chief Justice of India
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