CJI-Designate Justice Bobde May Have to Author More Judgments to Match His Predecessors

While Justice Bobde has been part of 424 benches which have delivered judgments, he has authored only 62 judgments so far.  

New Delhi: Chief Justice of India-designate Justice S.A. Bobde may have his hands full on the administrative side when he takes over as the next CJI on November 18. But as a judge, he has one thing to be concerned about before he completes his term on April 23, 2021: His score-card as an author of judgments and the number of times his judgments are cited by his peers.

According to the legal research firm Manupatra’s Judge Analytics, Justice Bobde has authored just 62 judgments since he joined the Supreme Court as a judge on April 12, 2013, and his judgments have been cited in only 56 judgments.

The number of times judgments authored by a judge are cited in subsequent judgments reflects his or her influence in setting legal precedents. Considering that Justice Bobde will complete about eight years in the Supreme Court during his tenure as a judge and as CJI, how does his record so far compare with that of his predecessors, and his would-be successors in office?

As the CJI is also the administrative head of the Supreme Court acting as master of the roster, the time which he is expected to spend on authoring judgments may be limited, but nevertheless significant, as it will determine his place in the court’s history – as far as the number of judgments authored by a judge, and cited by other judges is taken into consideration.

As per convention, the senior-most judge on the bench decides who will author the main judgment, in case there is a consensus among the judges on the outcome of a case. However, this does not preclude authorship of concurring judgments, when a judge finds he or she has more to say than simply express his or her agreement and dissents.

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While the number of judgments authored by a judge may be no indication about the competence of a judge, it does tell us about the contribution of the judge to law and its evolution.

While Justice Bobde has been part of 424 benches which have delivered judgments, he has authored only 62 judgments so far.   The year-wise breakdown of his authorship of judgments and his being a part of benches which delivered judgments are as follows:

Year Judgment authored Part of Bench
2013 7 71
2014 15 87
2015 6 62
2016 7 47
2017 13 76
2018 11 56
2019 3  25 (so far)

Considering that Justice Bobde began to preside over division benches in 2017 by virtue of his seniority within the Supreme Court as determined by the date of joining the court, it appears that his colleagues on the benches have received more opportunities to author judgments delivered by them.

The current CJI Ranjan Gogoi has so far authored 214 judgments, while he has been cited in 183 judgments. CJI Gogoi’s tenure as a judge from April 23, 2012, to November 17, 2019, would have covered a period of seven years and seven months, less than what Justice Bobde could claim.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. PHoto: PTI/Shahbaz Khan

CJI Gogoi’s immediate predecessor, Dipak Misra authored 412 judgments, while he has been cited in 398 judgements. His tenure lasted for about seven years from October 10, 2011, to October 1, 2018.

CJI J.S. Khehar authored 142 judgments, while he has been cited in 115 judgments. His tenure was for six years from September 13, 2011, to August 27, 2017.

CJI T.S.Thakur authored 233 judgments, with 194 citations. His tenure lasted for seven years and one month from November 17, 2009, to January 3, 2017.

CJI H.L. Dattu authored 116 judgments, with 92 citations. He served the court for seven years from December 17, 2008 to December 2, 2015.

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CJI R.M.Lodha authored 235 judgments, with 200 citations.  He spent six years and ten months at the court from December 17, 2008, to September 27, 2014.

CJI-designate Bobde’s successor-in-waiting Justice N.V.Ramana has already authored 135 judgments with 110 citations. Justice Ramana joined the court on February 17, 2014, and his date of superannuation is August 26, 2022. He will complete eight years and six months at the time of his superannuation.

Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, who will succeed Justice Ramana as the CJI in 2022, has already authored 196 judgments with 152 citations.  He joined the Court on August 13, 2014 and retires on November 8, 2022.

Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, who will succeed Justice Lalit, joined the Court on May 13, 2016, and will retire on November 10, 2024, after completing eight years and six months. He has already authored 234 judgments, with 171 citations.

Most of Justice Bobde’s predecessors as the CJIs had authored more number of judgments, and claimed more citations, according to Manupatra. CJI P. Sathasivam, with a tenure of six years and eight months, authored 338 judgments, with 278 citations. CJI Altamas Kabir, with a tenure of seven years and ten months, authored 361 judgments with 288 citations.  CJI S.H. Kapadia, with a tenure of eight years and ten months, authored 304 judgments with 261 citations.  CJI K.G. Balakrishnan, with a tenure of nine years and three months, had authored 214 judgments, with 127 citations.

CJI Y.K.Sabharwal authored 175 judgments, with 129 citations. CJI R.C. Lahoti authored 335 judgments with 249 citations. CJI Rajendra Babu had a very limited tenure as the CJI lasting for a month, but as a judge for nearly seven years, authored 421 judgments, with 261 citations.

CJI V.N. Khare, who served for about seven years as a judge at the apex court, authored 170 judgments and earned 86 citations.  CJI G.B. Pattanaik, who also served for about seven years as a judge and 40 days as the CJI, authored 398 judgments and earned 215 citations.

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CJI B.N. Kirpal, during his seven years at the apex court, authored 184 judgments and earned 114 citations.  CJI S.P. Bharucha had the opportunity to serve the court for ten years as a judge.  He authored 339 judgments and earned 200 citations.

CJI A.S. Anand, who also served the court for about ten years, authored 191 judgments and earned 91 citations.

Among those who authored less than 100 judgments include CJI M.N. Venkatachaliah, whose tenure as a judge in the Supreme Court lasted seven years. He authored only 82 judgments with 70 citations.

CJI M.H. Kania, whose term as a judge lasted for about five years, authored 91 judgments with 56 citations.

CJI K.N. Singh had a tenure of about five years, and as CJI, served just for 17 days – the lowest in the court’s history.  He authored 85 judgments and secured 63 citations.

CJI Patanjali Sastri, whose term as a Judge lasted only about four years, authored 75 judgments and secured 47 citations.  The first CJI, H.J. Kania, whose term ended within two years because of his untimely death, authored 36 judgments and earned 17 citations.

It should be noted, however, that those CJIs who authored less than 100 judgments, mostly belonged to early years of the court’s history, when the court had to hear less number of cases, and the sanctioned strength of judges of the Supreme Court was also less in number.

File Photo: Justice S.A. Bobde with Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in November 2018. Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh

At the Supreme Court, Justice Bobde has so far pronounced judgments in 29 criminal cases, and six arbitration cases.  The remaining cases pertained to civil, service, property, banking, education, excise, family, and election matters.

Also read: Ayodhya Dispute ‘One of the Most Important Cases in the World’: CJI-Designate Bobde

Among constitutional matters, each of his three judgments is considered noteworthy. In Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen, he sided with the majority judges in seven-judge bench, which held that an appeal on the basis of religion of the voter as well as the candidate would constitute an offence under the Representation of People Act.

Although the nine-Judge bench had unanimously declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v Union of India, Justice Bobde thought it appropriate to author a separate concurring judgment, elucidating his views.

In Jindal Stainless Ltd. v State of Haryana, while agreeing with the majority judges on the nine-judge bench, Justice Bobde authored his concurring judgment separately on the question that taxes are not restrictions on freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse guaranteed by Article 301.

Justice Bobde has never been in minority in any of the judgments authored by him.  This is an indication that in the Ayodhya case, if at all there is any dissent by any of the five judges on the bench, Justice Bobde may find himself as a part of the majority.