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Can Judges have political affiliations?

  • Context (IE): A retiring judge of Calcutta HC said in his farewell speech that he was, and is, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Political Affiliation and Judges Appointment in India

  • Prior to the 1970s, a judicial candidate’s political ideology was not a major concern in the judicial appointments process.
  • This changed after Indira Gandhi’s government suffered setbacks in the SC in the Golak Nath, bank nationalisation, and privy purse cases.
  • Mr. Kumaramangalam, a minister in Indira gandhi’s cabinet and former advocate general of Madras state, played a pivotal role in shaping the process.
    • He openly advocated the doctrine that the ideology of judges must be considered while determining their fitness for appointment to the SC.
    • In 1982 and 1985, the CJI recommended Justice Chandurkar for the SC, but the GOI opposed, citing his ties to the RSS. The PM said, “My party thinks he’s not good” and “unlikely to help the GOI.”
  • Since the 1990s, SC and HC appointments have been made by the Collegium system. Judges in India are presumed neutral and avoid overt political affiliations.
  • In 2023, controversy arose when lawyer Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri, a former BJP women’s wing secretary, was appointed as a Madras HC judge.
    • Twenty-one lawyers objected, but others argued her conduct after elevation mattered, not her past affiliation. The SC dismissed the petition, stating courts should not assess suitability.

Global Examples

United Kingdom

  • Judges in the UK are selected by a process that prioritises merit and experience over political affiliation.
  • The system relies on senior members of the judiciary and others who are acquainted with the judiciary.
  • Judges in the UK are expected to avoid any appearance of political ties, e.g., by attending political gatherings, political fundraising events, contributing to political parties etc.
  • They are also expected to not participate in public demonstrations which would associate them with a political cause, diminish their authority, and cast doubt on their independence.
  • Judges are prohibited from running for Parliament under the House of Commons (Disqualification) Act, 1975.

United States of America

  • The American system places judicial appointments in the hands of politicians.
  • The President appoints judges to the higher judiciary, and the appointments are confirmed by the United States Senate in what is most often a partisan vote.
  • US judges serve for life and have well-known political positions that may be conservative or liberal.
  • The 1990 American Bar Association Model Code prohibits judges from political activity except to improve the law, legal system, or justice administration.
  • The 2007 model code provides that a judge “shall not engage in political activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary”.


  • Judges must ensure their associations with the Legislature or Executive do not compromise their independence or create an appearance of bias.
  • Judges should avoid clubs or associations linked to political parties and not hear cases where their impartiality could be questioned due to their family’s political activity or affiliation.


  • Although prior political party membership doesn’t justify bias allegations, judges are expected to sever all political ties upon appointment.
  • Publicly-aired opinions indicating a bias can be grounds for disqualification of a judge.
  • Giving the appearance of continuing ties by attending political gatherings, political fundraising events, or through contributions to a political party should be avoided.
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