The Supreme Court of India is at the apex of the judicial system in India and the Parliament is competent to make any changes regarding its constitution, jurisdiction and the salaries payable to its judges. The Supreme Court comprises a Chief Justice of India and 28 other Judges. Besides, the Chief Justice of India, with presidential consent, can request a retired Supreme Court Judge to act as a Temporary Judge in case of lack of quorum.
A person, to be appointed a Supreme Court Judge, must
1. be a citizen of India
2. be either a distinguished jurist or have at least 10 years’ High Court practice as an advocate OR
3. have been a High Court Judge for at least 5 years.
All such appointments are done by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. In reality, it is done on the recommendations of a Collegium of Judges constituted by the Supreme Court. It has been judicially upheld that the advice given by such a Collegium is legally binding on the President.
No minimum age or any fixed tenure has been prescribed.
A Supreme Court Judge may cease to be so
1. on attaining the age of 65 years
2. by sending his resignation to the President
3. being impeached
The only grounds upon which a Supreme Court Judge can be removed are
A. proven misbehaviour B. incapacity
A Supreme Court Judge gets a monthly salary of Re. 90000 /- only plus an official residence free of cost while the Chief Justice of India receives a monthly salary of Rs. 100000 /- only, apart from an official residence free of cost. The Constitution secures the independence of the Supreme Court judges by several means, i.e.,
1. In matters of appointments to the Supreme Court, the President is required to consult, part from his Council, the Chief Justice of India. It has been ruled by the Supreme Court that the word consultation here means that the advice so given is binding on the government.
2. They cannot be removed except on a Joint Address by both chambers on specified grounds.
3. That the Supreme Court Judges' salaries cannot be changed to their disadvantage during their tenure.
4. That no Supreme Court Judge shall act or plead in any Court in India after retirement.
The Supreme Court enjoys an overriding power to entertain appeal, without any limitations. An appeal to the Supreme Court lies not only from the decision of any lower Courts within India, but also from the decisions of any tribunal in India.
AS A FEDERAL COURT
Art 131 gives the Supreme Court exclusive power to decide on disputes between the Union and the States or between two or more States. Since such a case will always go to the Supreme Court only, this is known as the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Only certain classes of disputes are excluded from this category i.e. a disputes arising from interference with inter-state water supplies and matters referred to the Finance Commission.
An appeal to the Supreme Court always lies if a death sentence has been given to a person by any lower court / tribunal. But appeals in civil cases decided by a High Court will be entertained only if the case involves an important question of law and constitutional interpretation and is certified so by the High Court concerned. Of course, the Supreme Court enjoys unlimited power of judicial review by means of its Special Leave Petition, to hear any case arising from any Court / Tribunal within India, except Military Tribunals.
Under Art. 143, the Supreme Court can give its advice on any matter referred to it by the President.
However, once a presidential reference is made to it, it is not binding on it to give its advice nor is it binding on the government to accept such advice. An example is the presidential reference to the Court on the Ayodhya dispute. In this case, the Court had declined to give any advice, saying that it was a purely political question.
The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution and other laws. It tries to ensure adherence to both and thus acts as a guarantor of individual rights granted by the law and the Constitution.