In a first, Collegium recommends woman advocate for direct appointment as SC judge

Indu Malhotra will be the first woman lawyer to be directly recommended from the Bar to Supreme Court judgeship.

Updated - January 11, 2018 09:54 pm IST

Published - January 11, 2018 03:39 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi.

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra unanimously recommended the name of senior advocate Indu Malhotra for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Sources said that the Collegium has also recommended the name of Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, Justice K.M. Joseph, who had quashed the President's rule in Uttarakhand, as Supreme Court judge. The recommendations were made in a Collegium meeting held on January 10. Now, the Union Law Ministry has to take a call.

This is the first time in history that a woman lawyer has been recommended for direct elevation from the Bar to a Supreme Court judgeship. The decision, experts say, is a rare recognition of the professional talent and contribution of Ms. Malhotra, a reputed senior advocate practising in the apex court.

If appointed, Ms. Malhotra would be only the seventh woman judge in the Supreme Court's 68-year-old history.

Justice M. Fathima Beevi was the first woman Supreme Court judge, appointed 39 years after the apex court was established in 1950. The second woman judge was Justice Sujata V. Manohar, who was appointed in 1994 for a five-year tenure in the Supreme Court. The other five women judges are Justices Ruma Pal, Gyan Sudha Misra, Ranjana Prakash Desai, who was part of the Bench which confirmed the death penalty of the lone 26/11 Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab, and R. Banumathi, who was one of the judges who confirmed the death sentence for four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape appeals.

Justice Banumathi is the sole woman among the 25-strong Supreme Court judiciary. The court has been facing criticism for not bringing more women judges into its fold even as more and more gender-sensitive and women-centric cases reach the Supreme Court for adjudication.

Recently, all the direct elevations from the Supreme Court Bar have been men. Justices Rohinton Nariman, U.U. Lalit and L. Nageswara Rao were recent inductions to the Supreme Court from the Supreme Court Bar. Earlier, Justices S.M. Sikri, who became the 13th Chief Justice of India, S.C. Roy, Kuldip Singh and N. Santosh Hegde were appointed to the Supreme Court Bench directly from the Bar. 

If cleared, Ms. Malhotra would be the eighth lawyer to be directly appointed to the Supreme Court Bench.

Justice K.M. Joseph, who quashed the declaration of emergency in Uttarakhand in 2016, was once described as an outstanding judge by Supreme Court judge and SC Collegium member Justice J. Chelameswar, who had urged the Collegium to elevate Justice Joseph to the apex court.

Interestingly, the decision to elevate Justice Joseph to the Supreme Court comes even as a May 2016 Collegium recommendation to transfer him from Uttarakhand to the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is still pending with the government.

The apex court currently has six judicial vacancies even as seven more judges, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, are scheduled to retire in the course of 2018.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Collegium has also recommended the appointment of Justice J. Bhattacharya as the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court. Justice Bhattacharya is the present Acting Chief Justice of the High Court.

The Collegium has recommended the transfer of Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, the present CJ of the Chhattisgarh High Court, to the HC of Andhra and Telangana as Chief Justice. The Collegium has recommended the appointment of Justice Antony Dominic as the Chief Justice of Kerala High Court. He is presently the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court. Justice Surya Kant, a judge with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, has been recommended for appointment as the Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

Presently, there are nine High Courts with Acting Chief Justices, some of them have not seen a regular Chief Justice for over a year or more. The growing vacancies in the Supreme Court, experts say, may be attributable to the dimnishing pool of Chief Justices in various High Courts.

Justice Aniruddha Bose, a Calcutta High Court judge, has been recommended for appointment as Delhi High Court Chief Justice. Justice Abhilasha Kumari, a Gujarat High Court judge, has been recommended for appointment as Manipur High Court Chief Justice. 

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