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Judges wary of SC elevation of lawyers

New Delhi, July 6: Members of the judiciary are said to be opposing the elevation of senior advocates to the Supreme Court, particularly those who are relatively young.

Sources said although a few judges wanted bright senior advocates to be elevated to the apex court, most feel that promoting the relatively younger ones might affect the chances of many sitting apex court judges to become Chief Justice of India (CJI).

A case in point is the recent attempt to elevate senior advocates Fali Nariman and U.U. Lalit and the aborted bid to promote Gopal Subramanium as an apex court judge.

Had Subramanium been elevated, he would have become Chief Justice for over a year.

While Lalit’s name is yet to be formally recommended by the Chief Justice-headed apex court collegium, there is a feeling that the senior advocate, who is in his 50s, may eventually become the CJI if elevated.

It is said to be causing disappointment among judges as they would prefer somebody from the present lot of high court chief justices or senior judges from the apex court to occupy the coveted post.

If elevated, Lalit would have a stint of at least 10 years as a judge of the Supreme Court by which time all the current judges would have retired.

Sources told The Telegraph that most of the chief justices of high courts and senior high court judges, besides judges of the apex court, had voiced concern over appointing relatively younger advocates directly from the bar.

Chief justices or senior-most judges of the high courts are elevated to the Supreme Court, where the superannuating age is 65, unlike in high courts where the retirement age is 62.

“Yes, there is a general opposition from judges to the appointment of younger advocates’ elevation to the Supreme Court as they feel their chances of becoming the CJI would be affected,” said a senior counsel and a former three-time president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Promoting senior advocates to the apex court directly has been done sparingly and the credit should go to the current CJI, R.M. Lodha, for recommending the names of some senior advocates from the bar.

While S.M. Sikri was elevated from the bar to the Supreme Court in the 1960s, there was no such promotion for over three decades.

In the 1990s, senior advocate Kuldeep Singh was directly elevated to the Supreme Court. But he was at that time reportedly placed lower on the seniority list to ensure that the then Gujarat High Court Chief Justice, A.M. Ahmadi, who was elevated to the Supreme Court the same day, became the CJI.

In 1999, senior advocate Santosh Hegde was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court. He retired in 2005.