The Supreme Court collegium today made public its resolution recommending the name of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph for appointment as an apex court judge, saying he is “more deserving and suitable in all respects” than other chief justices and judges of the high courts.
Along with Justice Joseph, the collegium has also recommended the name of senior advocate Indu Malhotra, who would be the first woman lawyer to be directly appointed as a judge of the top court, instead of being elevated from a high court.
Malhotra would be the seventh women judge in the apex court since Independence as only six women judges have made it to the Supreme Court as judges.
Justice Joseph had hogged the limelight when a high court division bench, headed by him, quashed in 2016 the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand.
The reports quoting sources about elevation of Justice Joseph and Malhotra had appeared on January 11. According to the resolution, the collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, had met on January 10 and discussed on the vacancy of judges in the apex court. The apex court has a sanctioned strength of 31 judges, including the CJI, but it is at present functioning with 25 judges.
Besides the CJI, the collegium comprises four seniormost judges of the apex court—justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph. The resolution, which was uploaded on the Supreme Court website today, said that the collegium had met to consider filling up of vacancies in the top court and after “extensive discussion and deliberations, unanimously” resolved to fill up two vacancies at present.
It said that the collegium discussed the names of chief justices and senior puisne high court judges eligible for appointment as judges of the apex court. “The collegium considers that at present Justice K M Joseph, who hails from Kerala High Court and is currently functioning as Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, is more deserving and suitable in all respects than other Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts for being appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court of India,” it said. “While recommending the name of Justice K M Joseph, the collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts, apart from their merit and integrity,” the resolution said.
It noted that Justice Joseph was appointed as a judge of the Kerala High Court on October 14, 2004 and was elevated as the chief justice of the Uttarakhand High Court on July 31, 2014.
“He stands at Sl. No.45 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis,” it said.
It further said that the collegium had also considered the names of eminent members of the bar. “In our considered opinion, at present, Indu Malhotra, Senior Advocate, is eminently suitable for being appointed as a Judge in the Supreme Court,” it said.
“We, therefore, recommend that Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice, Uttarakhand High Court and Indu Malhotra, Senior Advocate, be appointed as Judges in the Supreme Court of India,” the resolution said.
Malhotra was designated as a senior advocate in 2007. At present, Justice R Banumathi is the lone woman judge in the apex court.
Justice M Fathima Beevi was the first women judge of the apex court and she was appointed in 1989, 39 years after the setting up of the Supreme Court in 1950. Justice Beevi was elevated to the apex court after her retirement as judge of the Kerala High Court. After serving the top court till April 29, 1992, she was appointed as the governor of Tamil Nadu.
The second woman judge in the Supreme Court was Justice Sujata V Manohar, who started her career as a judge from the Bombay High Court and rose to become the chief justice of the Kerala High Court. She was elevated to the apex court where she remained from November 8, 1994 till August 27, 1999. Justice Ruma Pal followed Jusitce Manohar after a gap of almost five months and became the longest-serving woman judge from January 28, 2000 to June 2, 2006.
After her retirement, it took four years to appoint the next woman judge. Justice Gyan Sudha Misra was elevated to the Supreme Court from the Jharkhand High Court where she was the chief justice. Her tenure in the apex court was from April 30, 2010 to April 27, 2014.
During her stint, she was joined by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, who served the apex court between September 13, 2011 to October 29, 2014. These two judges also created a history by holding the court together as an all-women bench for a day in 2013.
Justice Banumathi, who at present is the only sitting woman judge, had joined on August 13, 2014 and would retire on July 19, 2020.
In the 67-year history of the Supreme Court, there have been only two occasions when it has had two sitting women judges together, the first being justices Misra and Desai and later justices Desai and Banumathi.