“The Cover Story, “WHEN SHOULD THE JUSTICE RETIRE?” by HemRaj Singh in the September 2010 issue was timely. Amongst others, the retirement age of the Judges of higher judiciary has profound bearing on the independence of higher judiciary in India. The retired judges of the higher judiciary are offered government employment of some kind or other viz. chairmanship, membership of tribunals, statutory commissions, committees and so forth. The lure of such prospective offices and associated perks and pelf have ample potential to subject some of the serving judges to extraneous considerations in the discharge of their duties and it may undermine the independence of higher judiciary. The apprehension becomes more marked in view of the constitutional prohibition restraining the retired Supreme Court Judges and the retired High Court Judges to practice law before any court or authority in India and in the High Court(s) where they held office as a permanent judge respectively.
As pointed out in the story, in USA, a Judge of the Supreme Court holds office during good behaviour, which means that he can continue to occupy office for life. The secured judicial tenure leading virtually up to the last breath of the judge free of the post-retirement anxieties greatly subserves the independence of judiciary in the USA.
In India, the present position of difference in age of retirement has colossal potential to inveigle some of the High Court judges to curry favour with the Supreme Court’s collegium (entrusted with the function to make appointments and transfers in higher judiciary) to secure an extended tenure of three more years in the Supreme Court.
The Constitution Amendment Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in the last monsoon session to raise the retirement age of High Court Judges from 62 to 65 is salutary but not adequate. In this matter, either the Indian Constitution should appropriately be amended on the line of the American Constitution or any how, the age of retirement of both the High Court and Supreme Court Judges be fixed at 70 years in line with the present normal life expectancy in India.
However, needless to emphasize that Judicial accountability, transparency and independence are interwoven. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill cleared by the Union Cabinet recently needs to be made into law forthwith. Moreover, the proposed Scrutiny Committee and Judicial Oversight Committee in the said Bill should also be involved along with the existing machinery of the present Collegium system in making judicial appointments and transfers in the higher judiciary. It will help tremendously in mitigating the scourge of “Judges appointing the Judges”.”