SC Collegium's Primacy Faces Fresh Test With New Recommendations to Fill Two Vacancies at SC

The five-member Supreme Court Collegium has recommended the elevation of the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh high court, Prashant Kumar Mishra and senior advocate, K.V. Viswanathan, to fill the two recent vacancies. 

The five-member Supreme Collegium, on Tuesday, May 16, recommended the elevation of the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh high court, Prashant Kumar Mishra, who hails from the high court of Chattisgarh, for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.  

The Collegium, at present, comprises the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, K.M. Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, and Sanjiv Khanna. 

Chief Justice Mishra has served as a judge of the high court for over 13 years and ranks at serial number 21 in the All-India Seniority List of Judges of the high courts. But this is not the first time when the Collegium considered factors other than seniority, namely, merit and regional representation, to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.

The Collegium not only credited Justice Mishra with significant experience in diverse fields of law, but described him as a judge with integrity. It took the view that although the present Chief Justice of Allahabad HC, Pritinker Diwaker – also from the parent high court of Chattisgarh – ranks senior to Justice Mishra, “having considered all relevant factors,” it found the latter worthy of appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

The Collegium did not elaborate on what those factors, which tilted the scales in favour of  Chief Justice Mishra, were.

At present, there is no representation of Chhattisgarh among the Supreme Court judges. 

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Born on August 29, 1964 at Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, Justice Mishra’s B.Sc and LL.B degrees are from the Guru Ghasidas University, Bilaspur. 

He enrolled as an advocate on September 4, 1987, and first practised law at the district court at Raigarh. He then moved to the high court of Madhya Pradesh at Jabalpur and the Chhattisgarh HC at Bilaspur. He was designated as senior advocate by Chattisgarh HC in January 2005. He was Advocate General for the state from September 1, 2007 till his elevation as a judge of the Chhattisgarh HC on December 10, 2009. He was Acting Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh HC from June 1, 2021, to October 11, 2021. He assumed charge as the Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh HC on October 13, 2021. 

K.V. Viswanathan

The Collegium also resolved to appoint senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan as a judge of the Supreme Court, considering the fact that at present, there is only one member from the bar who has been directly appointed to the Supreme Court bench – Justice P.S. Narasimha.

Describing Viswanathan as a distinguished member of the bar, the Collegium observed that his wide experience and profound knowledge will be a significant addition to the Supreme  Court. 

Viswanathan completed the five-year integrated law degree from Coimbatore Law College, Bharatiyar University, and enrolled with the Bar Council of  Tamil Nadu in 1988. After practising before the Supreme Court for over two decades, he was designated as a senior advocate in 2009. 

The Collegium credited Viswanathan with experience in arguing wide range of cases on diverse subjects including constitutional law, criminal law, commercial law, the law of insolvency, and arbitration.  

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“His stature as an eminent member of the Bar has been recognised by the Supreme Court in numerous cases where he was appointed to assist the court as amicus curiae”, the resolution reads. 

Viswanathan has a sound understanding of law and is known in the legal fraternity for his integrity and as an upright senior member of the Bar, the resolution adds. 

Viswanathan was born on May 26, 1966, and he will retire on May 25, 2031. He would be in line to assume the office of the Chief Justice of India on August 11, 2030, upon the retirement of Justice Pardiwala, whom he will be succeeding as the CJI. 

Viswanathan was the amicus curiae in the Enforcement Director extension case (Jaya Thakur vs Union of India).  He told the Supreme Court that the amendment introduced to extend the tenure of the ED director should be scrapped “in the interest of democracy”.  He told the court that the extensions that ED director S.K. Mishra got were longer than his primary tenure and if not set aside, they will “haunt us…[and] be misused by successive governments”. 

The petitions in this case challenge CVC (Amendment) Act 2021 which allows the extension of the term of the ED director up to five years. Judgment in this case, heard by a three-judge bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, was reserved on May 8.