The Supreme Court of India – Basics


  • The Indian constitution has established an integrated Judicial System with the Supreme Court at the top and the high courts below it. Under a High Court, there is a hierarchy of subordinate courts that is district courts and other lower courts.
  • Supreme Court of India was inaugurated on January 28 1950 and is located in New Delhi.
  • The Supreme Court of India functions from the Parliament House till it moved to the present building. It succeeded the federal court of India, established under the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • After its inauguration on January 28, 1950, the Supreme Court commenced its sittings in a part of the Parliament House. The Court moved into the present building in 1958.
  • Originally in 1950 the Supreme Court has one Chief Justice and seven other judges. All the judges sat together to hear the case presented before them.
    As the work of the Court increased and arrears of cases began to cumulate, Parliament increased the number of Judges as-

1956- 1+10= 11
1960- 1+13= 14
1977- 1+17= 18
1986- 1+25= 26
2009- 1+30= 31
2019- 1+33= 34

As the number of the Judges has increased, they sit in smaller Benches of two and three, coming together in larger Benches of 5 and more only when required to do so or to settle a difference of opinion or controversy.

Appointment of Judges

  • Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president on consultation with the Chief Justice of India.
  • The consultation with the Chief Justice is obligatory in the case of appointment of a judge.

Appointment of Chief Justice

  • From 1950 to 1973, the practice has been to appoint the senior most judge of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of India.
  • This established convention was violated in 1973 when AN Ray was appointed as CJI by superseding 3 senior judges.
  • Again in 1977, MU beg was appointed as the CJI superseding the then senior most judge.
  • This discretion of the government was curtailed by the Supreme Court in the Second judges case 1993 in which the Supreme Court ruled that the senior most judge should alone be appointed to the office of the CJI.

Qualification of Judges

  • He should be a citizen of India.
  • He should have been a Judge of a High Court or High courts in succession for 5 years ;OR
  • He should have been an advocate of a High Court or High courts in succession for 10 years ;OR
  • He should be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the President.

Tenure of Judges

The Constitution has not fixed the tenure of a judge of the Supreme Court. However it makes 3 provisions –

  1. He holds office until he attains the age of 65 years. Any question regarding his age is to be determined by such authority and in such manner as provided by the parliament.
  2. He can resign his office by writing to the president.
  3. He can be removed from his office by the president on the recommendation of the parliament.

Salaries and allowances (Article 125)

  • The salaries, allowances, privileges, leave and pension of the judges of the Supreme Court are determined from time to time by the parliament.
  • They cannot be varied to their disadvantage after their appointment except during a financial emergency.
  • The retired Chief Justice and judges are entitled to 50% of their last drawn salary as monthly pension.

Appointment of acting Chief Justice (Article 126)

The President can appoint a Judge of the Supreme Court as an acting Chief Justice of India when:

  • The office of Chief Justice of India is vacant; or
  • The Chief Justice of India is temporarily absent; or
  • The Chief Justice of India is unable to perform the duties of his office.

Court of Record (Article 129)

As a court of record, the Supreme Court has 2 powers:

  • The Judgements, proceedings and acts of the Supreme Court are recorded for perpetual memory and testimony. These records are admitted to be of evidentiary value and cannot be questioned when produced before any court. They are recognised as legal precedents and legal references.
  • It has power to punish for contempt of court either with simple imprisonment for a term up to 6 months or with fine up to Rs. 2000 or with both.
    [In 1991, the Supreme Court has ruled that it has power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts and tribunals functioning in the entire country.]

Removal of Judges [Article 124(4)]

The Judges inquiry act 1968 regulates the procedure relating to the removal of a Judge of the Supreme Court. The stepwise procedure are given below –

  1. Removal motion signed by 100 members in the case of Lok Sabha or 50 members in the case of Rajya Sabha is to be given to the Speaker/Chairman.
  2. The Speaker/Chairman may admit the motion or refuse to admit it.
  3. If it is admitted, then the speaker/Chairman is to constitute a 3 member committee to investigate into the charges.
  4. The committee should consist of-
    • The Chief Justice or a Judge of Supreme Court.
    • A Chief Justice of High Court.
    • A distinguished Jurist.
  5. If the committee finds the Judge to be guilty of misbehaviour or suffering from an incapacity, the house can take up the consideration of the motion.
  6. After the motion is passed by each House of the Parliament Supported by a majority of Total membership of that house and by a majority of not less than 2/3rd of the members present and voting then it is presented to the president Of India for removal of the Judge.
  7. The motion must be passed in a single session of parliament.
  8. Finally, the president passes an order removing the Judge.
    (No Judge of Supreme Court has been impeached so far. The motion start on v ramaswami but defeated in Lok Sabha as Congress abstained from voting.)

Also Read:

History of Constitution

Salient Features of Constitution

Article 12 – Complete Analysis

Article 15 of Indian Constitution

National Emergency

President Rule

Financial Emergency

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