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The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has put forward a significant proposal: extending the retirement age of judges serving in India's Supreme Court and High Courts. This recommendation comes from the committee's 133rd Parliamentary Report, which delves into Judicial Processes and Their Reforms. The essence of the proposal lies in the suggestion to amend pertinent articles of the Constitution of India, ultimately elevating the current retirement age of 62 years for High Court judges and 65 years for their counterparts in the Supreme Court.
The rationale behind this suggestion stems from a multifaceted evaluation. First and foremost, the committee recognizes the impact of advances in medical sciences on life expectancy since the 1960s. With the average lifespan now extended, the committee contends that it's time to reevaluate the age at which judges retire. The report highlights the intriguing fact that when the life expectancy was around 40 years in the 1960s, the retirement age of judges was set at 62. This figure has remained unaltered despite life expectancy increasing to around 70 years. The committee sees this as an opportune moment to align retirement age with current life expectancies.
However, the committee introduces a crucial dimension to this proposition: a performance-based approach. It suggests that as judges' retirement age is extended, their performance could be reevaluated based on factors such as health conditions, quality of judgments, and their judicial output. To operationalize this, the committee proposes the establishment of a structured appraisal system by the Supreme Court collegium, ensuring that an extension in tenure is merited by sustained competence and effectiveness on the bench.
Moreover, the committee underscores the potential benefits of this proposal for the judicial system and the public at large. Longer tenures for experienced judges could profoundly impact the judicial landscape. A judge with a wealth of experience accrued over a lengthy tenure in the High Court would continue to serve, enriching the system with valuable insights that are difficult to replace with newly elevated judges. This longevity in service could potentially bolster the impartiality of judges, mitigating concerns about them seeking post-retirement opportunities in their final year of service.
The ripple effect of this proposal also extends to the litigants who rely on the judicial system. By reducing the occurrence of vacancies due to retirement, a more consistent number of judges would be available to hear and resolve cases, potentially expediting the judicial process.
In an international context, the retirement age for judges surpasses India's current standards. The committee's report contextualizes the global practice, further reinforcing the idea that extending the retirement age aligns with international norms and trends.
This comprehensive recommendation also takes into consideration the issue of post-retirement assignments, which has garnered attention. To ensure impartiality, the committee advocates for a reconsideration of the practice of assigning retiring judges to bodies or institutions financed from the public exchequer.
Despite the initial reluctance of the central government to raise the retirement age for High Court judges, the committee dismisses concerns of potential demands for similar extensions from civil servants. It underscores that the role and nature of judges are distinct and not comparable to other government services.
The committee, however, aligns with the government's perspective that an increase in retirement age should be accompanied by measures that enhance transparency and accountability in higher judiciary appointments. The report stresses the need for a collective effort to address the prevalent issue of court vacancies.
Chaired by Sushil Kumar Modi, a Member of Parliament, the Parliamentary Standing Committee presented its report on August 7 in both houses of Parliament. It's important to note that this recommendation echoes a similar proposal made by the Justice MN Venkatachaliah Commission in 2000, suggesting that the idea of extending judges' retirement age has been a subject of consideration for some time.