Case Studies
The 3 Judges Case | SP Gupta vs Union of India

The 3 Judges Case | SP Gupta vs Union of India

SP Gupta vs Union of India is the first case related to the collegium system in India adopted for the appointment and transfer of Supreme court and High court judges.

In the case SP Gupta vs Union of India, Judiciary decided in favor of the Government rather than the Chief justice of India, in matters involving the appointment of judges in the high court and supreme court.

Seven judges’ bench was constituted in SP Gupta vs Union of India case and the decision of the court was pronounced by P.N Bhagwati.
Bench: A Gupta, D Desai, E Venkataramiah, P Bhagawati, R Pathak, S M Ali, V Tulzapurka

Various written petitions were filed in the high court challenging the circular letter issued by the law minister of the Government of India. All the petitions were transferred to the supreme court under article 139 of the constitution.

Iqbal Chagla and others filed a petition in Bombay High court, V.M Tarkunde filed a petition in the high court of Delhi, he also assailed the practice followed by the Central Govt. in appointing additional Judges in various High Courts.

The third petition was filed by J.L Kalra in Delhi high court. S.P Gupta filed a petition in Allahabad high court challenging the circular and prayed for a declaration that the three additional Judges of the Allahabad High Court, namely, Mr. Justice Muralidhar, Mr. Justice A.N. Verma, and Mr. Justice N.N. Mittal must be deemed to have been appointed permanent Judges under the warrants already issued to them and that the circular letter of the Law Minister must be held to be void. Various other petitions were also filed which was transferred to court.

Advocate Mr. Mridul appearing for respondent raised objection on the locus standi of the petitioners. He said that petitions can not be maintained because they are not directly affected by the decision of the government.

Judgement SP Gupta vs Union of India

SC while rejecting the contention held that members of the public having sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public injury arising from breach of a public duty or from violation of some provision of the Constitution. Court-held petitioner has locus standi as they are lawyers.

While deciding on the scope of PIL Justice Bhagwati said that the Court will readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono Publico, thereby, making the procedure of approaching the Court more flexible.

On March 18, 1981, the Law minister issued a circular letter, circular letters were given to chief ministers of some states and chief justice of high courts. The things mentioned in the letter were.

  1. Consent of additional judges should be taken for their appointment as a permanent judge in another high court. They were also asked to give names of three preferred high courts for their appointment.
  2. Consent of judges for their initial appointment in another high court should be taken.

The contention advanced on behalf of the petitioners was that the circular letter required the additional
Judges as also those whose names were recommended or might in future be recommended for the initial appointment, to give their consent for being appointed as Judges outside the State and obtaining of such consent in advance would reduce the consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the Chief Justice of the High Court in which the additional Judge or the prospective Judge is to be appointed.

Court did not find any constitutional or legal infirmity or any abuse on part of the law minister in issuing a circular letter.

Court held circular letter does not offend clause one of article 217 and clause(1) of Article 222 and nor does it offend any provision of constitution and challenge against the validity of the circular letter must fail.

The court said that an additional judge should not be disqualified on the ground that he had not given his consent for joining outside the high court.

Petitioner asked for mandamus to direct government of India to allocate an appropriate number of judges in every high court, Supreme court rejected to issue of mandamus.

The next question raised was where is the power to appoint judges of the high court and supreme court located, who has the final voice in the appointment of judges.

Court held the power of judges in the supreme court is found in article 124, article 217 provides for the appointment of judges in the high court. Appointment of the judges should be done by consulting the people’s said in the article.

Court further held that consulting is only the process and final power if any disagreement arises, rest on the Government of India(GOI).

The petitioner of the case SP Gupta vs Union of India also argued that the correspondence exchanged between the chief justice of Delhi high court, law minister and chief justice of India for non-appointment of O.N Vora and S.N Kumar should be disclosed.

The court rejected the challenge on behalf of O.N Vora because he was not challenging it, the petition of S.N Kumar was allowed to challenge.

Respondent responded by saying that there is a protection provided to them under article 74 clause 2 and in sec.123 of the Indian Evidence act.

Court by a majority of six against one ordered for disclosure of documents and rejected the argument of protection said above.

Court held that it is for the court to decide the claim of immunity against disclosure made under sec.123 of the Indian evidence act. Court also said if disclosure of documents will affect the public interest, then it is law immune from disclosure.

By examining the correspondence exchanged between the constitution authorities, the court dismissed the petition. While dismissing the petition court said everyone acts bonafide.

On the issue related to the appointment of additional judges under article 224 clause (1). Court held that additional judges are also competent for consideration to be appointed as permanent judges or additional judges in the high court.

When the term of an additional Judge expires he ceases to be a Judge and therefore, if he is to continue as a Judge, he must be either reappointed as an additional Judge or appointed as a permanent Judge.

In either case, Clause (1) of Article 217 would operate and no reappointment as an additional Judge or appointment as a permanent Judge can be made without going through the procedure set out in Article 217 Clause (1).

Of course, an additional Judge has a right to be considered for such reappointment or appointment, as the case may be, and the Central Government cannot be heard to say that the additional Judge need not be considered. The additional Judge cannot just be dropped without consideration.

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