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Retirement age of judges

ONE of the recommendations made by the Justice Venkatachaliah Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution concerns the age of the judges of Constitutional courts — Supreme Court and High Courts. The committee has suggested 68 years as the retirement age for Supreme Court judges and 65 years for High Court judges.

In the United States there is no age of retirement for federal judges. They are tenured posts. If a federal judge feels that by reason of old age he cannot function, he will receive the last drawn salary as pension for the rest of his life. In the United Kingdom, judges retire at the age of 75. In India, a judge of the Supreme Court retires at 65 and a High Court judge at 62. The older the judge the greater would be his contribution in the dispensation of justice.

Judges of the superior courts cannot be compared with civil servants whose conditions of service are prescribed by legislative enactments and rules. As the nature of the work of the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court is the same in principle there appears to be no justifiable reason why there should be any difference in the age of retirement between the two. It is interesting to recall what Jawaharlal Nehru said in the Constituent Assembly on May 24, 1949 when the provision concerning the age of judges was taken up for consideration:

"With regard to judges, and Federal Court judges especially, we cannot proceed on the lines of the normal administrative services. We require top men in the administrative services. Nevertheless, the type of work that a judge does is somewhat different. It is, in a sense, less physically tiring. Thus a person normally, if he is a judge, does not have to face storm and fury so much as an administrative officer might have to. But at the same time it is a highly responsible work, and in all countries, so far as I know, age-limits for judges are far higher. In fact there are none at all. In America the greatest judge that I believe the Supreme Court produced went on functioning extremely well up to the age of ninety-two, for thirty or forty years running. If you go to the Privy Council of England, I do not know what they are now, but some years back when I went there I saw patriarchs sitting there with long flowing beards; and their age might have been anything up to a hundred years, so far as looks were concerned. Maybe, you may overdo this type of thing. But the point is, we must not look upon this merely as a question of giving jobs to younger people. When you need the best men, obviously age cannot be a criterion." — (Constituent Assembly Debate Vol. VIII, P246-247)

In 1950, when the Constitution came into force the average life span in our country was 30 years. Now it is 70 years. Is not time ripe now for Parliament to enact a law fixing the age of retirement uniformly at 75 for the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.


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