Author: Santosh Paul
The fourth senior most judge of Supreme Court, Justice Kurian Joseph has recommended increasing retirement age of judges in higher judiciary to deal with the huge pendency of cases.
The retirement age of High Court judges currently is 62 years. Most liberal democracies in the west have a retirement age of 70 for judges with some allowing tenures for life. A look at the chart below would bring more clarity:
Supreme Court of USA – Judges are appointed for life.
Constitutional Courts of Austria and Greece – Judges are appointed for life.
Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia – Retirement age for judges is 70 years.
Canada – Judges retire at 75 years of age.
Germany – Judges retire at 68 years of age.
All the above numbers are much higher than the Indian benchmark of 62 years.
The fact that judges in India are retiring at 62 and 65 years (for Supreme Court judges) is not helping alleviate the problem of huge backlog of 3.3 crore cases pending with the Indian judiciary. By setting the retirement age at 62 and 65, we are losing judges who are trained by time and experience well before their prime. If legislations provide for retired High Court and Supreme Court judges to man tribunals till the age of 70, there is no reason why these judges should be retired so early.
Also, it must be considered that with the rapid increase in the size of the economy, litigation would be on a rise and thus more judges would be required. Advanced economies such as Australia, Canada, France, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan have much higher litigation-to- population ratios.
Therefore, increasing the age of retirement for Supreme Court and High Court judges has significant advantages including:
- It will ensure the continued presence of a strong talent pool of experienced judges.
- New judges can be appointed without displacing existing judges.
- It will address the problem of mounting arrears.
- It will be a buffer against impending litigation explosion.
- It will render post-retirement assignments unattractive and, as a consequence, strengthen the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, both of which are crucial to sustain democracy.
- The judge-population ratio in India is among the lowest in the world at 19.66 judges per million (10 lakh) people as of today. In 2016, the U.K. had 51 judges per million people, the U.S. had 107, Australia had 41, and Canada had 75.
- According to National Judicial Data Grid data, more than 2.84 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts, 43 lakh cases are pending before the High Courts, and 57,987 cases are pending before the Supreme Court.
Facts for Prelims:
- The retirement age for judges is 62 years for High Courts and 65 years for the Supreme Court.
- Venkatachaliah Report – Report of the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution.
- 114th Amendment in 2010 sought to raise the retirement age of only the High Court judges from 62 to 65.