Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud has responded to a query about the Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation of Justice Victoria Gowri as Madras High Court judge by noting that a person should not be “disabled” from being appointed to a high judicial office for “views” she expressed as a “member of a political party” or the clients she appeared for as a lawyer.
The Chief Justice also underscored that judicial appointment was a “broad-based collaborative process“ in which “no one arm of the state has a decisive role to play”.
Justice Gowri was accused by petitioners in the Supreme Court of not just airing any “views” while she was a lawyer. They alleged she had made public utterances on social media that amounted to “hate speech, pure and simple, against minority communities”. The petitioners Anna Mathew and senior advocate R. Vaigai were among 21 lawyers who had written to President Droupadi Murmu, urging her to return the Supreme Court Collegium’s January 17 recommendation to elevate Ms. Gowri as Madras High Court judge.
“To what extent do you disable a person from becoming a judge by the virtue of the fact that they have at a certain point of time appeared for the political cause. Lawyers across their careers appear for a cross-section of clients. Lawyers do not choose their clients. It is my firm belief that as a lawyer you are duty-bound to appear for a person who comes to you for legal aid much as a doctor has to give medical aid to whoever comes to their clinic. You do not presume guilt or lack of guilt of people who come to you,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said at a recent interaction organised by the Harvard Law School.
Cites Krishna Iyer
Chief Justice Chandrachud referred to the political background of former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer, before he was called to the Bench.
“People who have appeared for a cross-section of diverse political views have turned out to be amazing judges… I am not sure we should be cold-calling an individual for the views they may have held as lawyers,” the Chief Justice said.
But senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for the petitioners, had distinguished between “having a political background” and “hate speech”.
He had argued before a Special Bench that judges from various political backgrounds add to the richness of judicial discourse. But hate speech, which was “antithetical to the values of the Constitution”, would render a candidate unfit or ineligible for taking the oath of judicial office. The court had however refused to intervene at the end of a February 7 hearing which coincided with Justice Gowri swearing in as an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court.
The Chief Justice’s opinion that people must not be held liable during judicial appointment process for their political causes or the choice of clients seemed to have not troubled the government in the cases of advocates R. John Sathyan, Somasekhar Sundaresan and Saurabh Kirpal.
Mr. Sathyan, who was recommended for Madras High Court judgeship, was said to have shared an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government had even bypassed a specific direction of the Collegium to give his appointment precedence over that of others, including Justice Gowri. The government had objected to the recommendation of Mr. Sundaresan to the Bombay High Court Bench on the ground that he was a “highly-biased opinionated person” who was “selectively critical on social media on the important policies, initiatives and directions of the government”. Mr. Kirpal, an openly gay lawyer in the running for Delhi High Court judgeship since 2017, had represented petitioners in the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the same-sex marriage cases.