The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to entertain petitions challenging the appointment of advocate Victoria Gowri as an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court even as the lawyer took oath of office in a ceremony held almost simultaneously with the apex court hearing
The court hearing before a Special Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B.R. Gavai began at 10.25 a.m. while the oath-taking ceremony at the Madras High Court was scheduled at 10.35 a.m., according to a notification issued on Monday night.
Initially, the petitioners said their lawyers were summoned to the courtroom of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud for a hearing at 9.15 a.m. But after a wait of over half an hour, senior advocates Raju Ramachandran and Anand Grover, for petitioners Anna Mathew and senior advocate R. Vaigai, were asked to go to court seven, where Justice Khanna presides, for a hearing at 10.30 a.m.
Towards the end of the 25-minute hearing, by which time Ms. Gowri had completed her oath, the apex court Bench said it cannot give a judicial direction to the Supreme Court Collegium to reconsider its January 17 recommendation, based on which the government notified the appointment of Ms. Gowri as an Additional High Court Judge on February 6.
Tweets ‘not in tune with the Constitution’: Senior Adv. Raju Ramachandran
The Supreme Court declined to intervene only a day after the Chief Justice of India made a rare statement in open court that the Collegium was considering the “developments” raised in a letter addressed to it by a group of 21 Madras High Court lawyers on February 1, highlighting that Ms. Gowri had made public utterances on social media that amounted to “hate speech, pure and simple, against minority communities”, and she was ineligible to take oath as a High Court judge. Mr. Ramachandran argued that the Collegium was not given full information about Ms. Gowri’s social media posts and tweets at the time of its recommendation on January 17.
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“We have a fairly robust scrutiny process. Let us not interfere with that… Assuming that the Collegium did not take everything into account may not be proper… We cannot go into the question of her suitability. We cannot direct the Collegium to reconsider. This is the case of an Additional Judge. Her confirmation as a Permanent Judge is further down… So, we will see. I don’t think we will be able to pass any orders at this stage,” Justice Khanna addressed the petitioners.
Mr. Ramachandran submitted that the decision-making process had been “affected and even stymied by necessary information about her not being placed before the Collegium”.
“This was apparent when the Chief Justice of India yesterday found it fit to mention in open court that her recommendation is being considered by the Collegium,” Mr. Ramachandran argued.
He said the tweets of Ms. Gowri indicate a “mindset not in tune with the Constitution”.
“Her utterances are antithetical to Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, a person who is not in sync with the ideals and basic principles of the Constitution is unfit to take oath. The Judges’ oath form talks of ‘true faith and allegiance to the Constitution’. That is the letter and spirit of the Constitution… This person has rendered herself incapable of taking oath by her own public utterances and this has a direct bearing on her eligibility,” Mr. Ramachandran said.
But Justice Khanna said that there have been judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court, including Justices Krishna Iyer, Aftab Alam, etc., with “political backgrounds”.
Personal political views cannot be ground for rejection: Justice Gavai
“I also had a political background before coming to the Bench. But I have been a judge for 20 years now. My political views do not interfere with my duties on the Bench,” Justice Gavai said.
“Political backgrounds enrich judicial discourse. We welcome that. But this is hate speech pure and simple. Tenets of the Constitution render you unfit to take oath. Your oath is insincere… Here it appears that the full information about her social media posts was not placed before the Collegium,” Mr. Ramachandran submitted.
Justice Gavai said sitting judges of the Supreme Court and local judges of the High Court concerned were consulted about the candidate by the Collegium. Mr. Ramachandran said they were consulted on the professional conduct of a candidate and not on their tweets.
Senior advocate Anand Grover said it may be that the Intelligence Bureau did not enclose her tweets in the file prepared for the Collegium’s consideration.
“This is when the government has only recently objected to two candidates on the basis of their social media posts,” Mr. Ramachandran interjected.
The government had opposed the Collegium’s recommendations of advocates R. John Sathyan and Somasekhar Sundaresan, for judicial appointments to the Madras and Bombay High Courts, respectively, over their critical posts and articles about the government and the Prime Minister.
“You should also know that in those two cases, the Collegium overruled the government’s objections. Personal political views cannot be a ground for rejection,” Justice Gavai reacted.
“But these articles of her [Ms. Gowri] are so extreme in nature, they palpably show that she is not fit to take oath,” Mr. Grover said.
Justice Khanna said the utterances of Ms. Gowri were of 2018. “All these matters must have been placed before the Collegium… The Collegium would have examined it. If there was anything in your letter of February 1, the Collegium would have raised it. For us to go into all these aspects of suitability and merits or the selection process would be like opening up a new jurisdiction… Are you saying that the court on the judicial side should ask the Collegium to reconsider? That cannot be done. We have to work within the four corners of the system,” Justice Khanna told the petitioners.
“I am not asking you to issue a writ to the Collegium. I am asking you to take judicial notice of the fact that the Collegium is considering its own recommendation. This was disclosed to us by the Chief Justice of India in open court proceedings yesterday,” Mr. Ramachandran replied.
He said events since February 6 morning have transpired with an “ugly haste”. The notification of the oath ceremony was issued despite senior lawyers apprising the Acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court that the Supreme Court had advanced the hearing of the case from Friday to February 7.
“We will be setting a very wrong precedent,” Justice Gavai conveyed his objection to the petitions.
“We refuse to entertain the petitions. Reasons will follow,” Justice Khanna said, before closing the hearing.