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‘Puisne’ judge and roles

  • Published
    3rd Feb, 2023

While recommending names for appointment as judges of the Supreme Court, the Collegium headed by the Chief Justice of India mentioned that it had taken into consideration the seniority of Chief Justices and senior Puisne Judges.

What does ‘Puisne’ used for judges mean?

  • The term originates from France, which means ‘later born’ or younger.
  • The English word that means ‘small’ or ‘undersized’.
  • Puisne is almost always used in the context of judges, and essentially denotes seniority of rank.
  • The term Puisne judge is used in ‘common law countries’ to refer to judges who are ranked lower in seniority,e., any judge other than the Chief Justice of that court.

Which are common law countries?

  • Common law is the body of law created by judges through their written opinions, rather than through statutes or constitutions (statutory law).
  • Common law, which is used interchangeably with ‘case law’, is based on judicial precedent.
  • The United Kingdom (UK) and the Commonwealth countries, including India, are common law countries.

Is a “Puisne judge” in India the same as in the UK?

  • In the UK, Puisne judges are judges other than those holding distinct titles.

For the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, of 1877 defined a “Puisne judge” as any judge of the High Court besides the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls.

  • In India, all judges have the same judicial powers. As the Seniormost judge of a court, the Chief Justice has an additional administrative role.
  • In India, there is a reference to a Puisne judge only while considering the order of seniority for appointments, elevations to High Courts, etc. Still, it does not have a bearing on the exercise of a judge’s judicial power.

Collegium’s stand on Puisne judges:

  • While giving reasons for its recommendation for appointing judges in Supreme Court, the decision was made taking “into consideration the seniority of Chief Justices and senior Puisne Judges in their respective parent High Courts as well as the overall seniority of the High Court Judges”.
  • This was done because seniority is one of the several criteria that are considered while making appointments to the higher judiciary.

Procedure for appointment and promotion in Judiciary:

  • In the Third Judges Case ruling in 1998, the Supreme Court clarified that ‘The Chief Justice of India must make a recommendation to appoint a Judge of the Supreme Court and to transfer a Chief Justice or Puisne Judge of a High Court in consultation with the four Seniormost Puisne Judges of the Supreme Court.’
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