The author makes the radical suggestion that the retirement age of judges may be increased …. but wait …. there’s a catch! …. He wants their right to practice before the lower courts to be taken away! Any takers for this suggestion?
1. At present the judges of the Apex court retire at the age of 65, whereas the judges of High Courts and the members of the ITAT retire at the age of 62. Most of the judges of the Apex Court even after retirement render service to the nation by chairing various forums, like Authority for Advance Rulings till the age of 68. Similarly the judges of the High Courts also serve as chairman, president or members of various quasi-judicial forums, like, Administrative Tribunals, Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, SEBI Tribunal, etc., where the age limit is 65. When the judges can render service as chairman of various forums and render the Judicial service which they were rendering earlier on the bench there is no reason why the age limit should not be raised. If the Government can retain the services of judges for another three years, it will be a great service to the nation and the pendency of cases before High Courts will reduce.
2. In India many professionals join the judiciary with the intention of serving the nation and not with the intention of getting a permanent job in the Government. A fresh law graduate when he joins a multinational gets much more than a sitting judge of High Court, who may have put in more than 20 years of practice in law. Experience of a judge and his knowledge is an asset to the justice delivery system; hence it is in the interest of the nation to raise the age limit of judges.
3. At the inaugural function of the ITAT Tribunal Member’s Conference at Mumbai in the year 2006 the Hon’ble Law Minister H. R. Bharadwaj stated that he is in favour of raising the retirement age of members of the ITAT. But, till date there is no more in this direction.
Federation is of the considered opinion that this is one of the important judicial reforms which is need of the hour. It is important to retain the knowledge and experience of the judiciary to deliver speedy justice.
4. The sanctioned strength of the judges of the Apex Court is 26, that of High Courts 749 and members of the ITAT is 126. Hence, it cannot be viewed as a vast opportunity in the employment sector yet retention of less than 1000 persons will have multiplier effect on justice delivery system. In Australia Judges of Federal Court and Supreme Court retire at the age of 70. Similarly in Japan judges of High Court retire at the age of 65 and Supreme Court at the age of 70.
5. We are of considered opinion that when the age limit of members is increased the retired members may not be permitted to practice before the same forum or forum lower to the Tribunal. When a retired member appears before the authorities lower to the Tribunal, the institution of the Tribunal loses the respect of the people. The High Court judges after retirement never appear before High Court or lower courts, this has enhanced the respect of the judiciary. It is essential that the service rules may be amended or by convention the retired members may not be permitted to appear at the place of retirement or any forum lower to the Tribunal.
6. It is time to initiate debate on the proposal of the increase of the age limit of the Supreme Court judges from 65 to 68, High Court judges and members of the ITAT from 62 to 65. The Federation has sent a representation earlier to increase the age limit of judges of Apex Court, High Courts and Members of ITAT.
A thought for debate and consideration.
Dr. K. SHIVARAM
(Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal – September 2008 issue)