As 2024 approaches, the Supreme Court of India is on the brink of a significant challenge with the scheduled retirements of three judges and the Chief Justice of India. The current record pendency of 80,000 cases in the apex court is poised to escalate if these vacancies are not expeditiously filled to maintain an efficient judiciary.
The sanctioned strength of the Supreme Court, set at 34 judges, is already facing a vacancy following the retirement of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in December 2023. The looming retirements in 2024 will commence with Justice Aniruddha Bose in April, followed by Justice AS Bopanna in May, and Justice Hima Kohli in September. Notably, these judges, despite their relatively short tenures on the top court, are crucial in addressing the mounting caseload.
With Justice Kohli’s retirement, the Supreme Court will be left with just two women judges unless the Collegium takes proactive steps to appoint new women judges. The brevity of tenure for judges slated to retire in 2024—each serving a maximum of four years or less—poses a challenge to the court’s efforts to expedite the clearance of the backlog of cases.
Adding to the complexity is the retirement of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud in November 2024. Justice Sanjiv Khanna is set to succeed him and will serve as the next Chief Justice of India from November 11, 2024, to May 13, 2025. The responsibility now lies with CJI Chandrachud to promptly consider names for elevation to the Supreme Court, ensuring that the current pendency of 80,384 cases does not further escalate during this transitional period.
In comparison to judges in other countries, Indian judges experience relatively short tenures in the Supreme Court. While judges in the United Kingdom retire at the age of 75 and in countries like Canada, Australia, Belgium, and Norway at 70, the tenure of judges in the United States, Russia, New Zealand, and Iceland is for a lifetime.
The imminent vacancies in 2024 demand careful consideration and expeditious action to ensure a smooth transition and continuity in addressing the backlog of cases. The appointment of judges with a long-term vision for judicial reform and efficiency becomes paramount to sustaining the Supreme Court’s role as the guardian of justice in India. As the judiciary prepares for this critical juncture, the eyes of the legal community and the public will be keenly focused on the process of judicial appointments and the impact on the administration of justice in the country.