Without Fear or Favour: The Collegium System of Judicial Appointments and Threats to Judicial Independence in India

Up till 1993, the Executive had the ultimate say in the appointment of constitutional court judges in India. However, distrust of the Executive, born of its attempts to subvert judicial independence, fueled the adoption of the “collegium” system of appointments, which placed the power of appointments with the judiciary. Amidst growing concerns that the collegium system operates in an opaque and often nepotistic manner with no accountability for its decisions, the judiciary has tried to maintain control over judicial appointments, while at the same time, taking tentative steps toward opening up the process to greater scrutiny. This paper describes the competing claims, interests, concerns, and approaches underpinning the Indian judiciary’s attempts to mediate between the threat to judicial independence from an encroaching Executive on the one hand, and an opportunity to shore up its fast dwindling legitimacy by enhanced public accountability in the appointments process on the other.