Supreme Court judges mutiny: All you need to know about the four who dared to question the system
A quick look at the careers of the four judges who held an unprecedented press conference to voice their discontentment over the functioning of apex court and its Chief Justice Dipak Misra
Ex-Kerala CJ gave talaq verdict
Justice Kurian Joseph
It was perhaps no surprise that Justice Kurian Joseph was among the four judges who decided to speak out about the administration of justice in the Supreme Court. The judge has spoken publicly in the past that people have high expectations of the judiciary and that it should play a pro-active role to meet their aspirations. “The judiciary has been entrusted the vital task of establishing truth and it is the prime duty of every judge to uphold it,” he said recently.
Born in Kerala, Justice Kurian Joseph obtained his LLB degree from the Kerala Law Academy Law College. He started practising in 1979 in the Kerala High Court, and was named as additional advocate-general in 1994 and designated a senior advocate in 1996. He was elevated as judge in the Kerala High Court in 2000.
He has served twice as acting chief justice of the High Court of Kerala, and was subsequently appointed as the chief justice of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, before he became a Supreme Court judge in 2013. He retires in November 2018.
Justice Joseph was on the bench that declared the practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional. The judgement came in for a lot of praise. In his judgement he said, “I find it extremely difficult to agree with the learned Chief Justice that the practice of triple talaq has to be considered integral to the religious denomination in question and that the same is part of their personal law....”
With penchant for dissent, he has ruled in crucial cases
Justice Jasti Chelameswar
Justice Jasti Chelameswar is the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, having been appointed to it in 2011. His six-and-a-half-year stint in the apex court has been marked by a series of dissenting actions. Most notably, he stood out as the lone judge not to concur with the Supreme Court’s majority (4:1) verdict that struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and effectively restored the Collegium system of appointing judges.
On Friday, he topped up his reputation for dissent by leading three brother judges, senior-most in the Supreme Court, in addressing an unprecedented press conference in which they pointed out flaws in the administration of justice by the chief justice. Born in a village called Pedda Muttevi in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh in 1953, Justice Chelameshwar’s career in law goes back to his graduation from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam in 1976 and in the judiciary to his appointment as an additional judge of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in 1997.
A self-confessed admirer of the late N T Rama Rao, Justice Chelameshwar has an abiding interest in literature, particularly in his native tongue of Telugu, which he traces back to influences during his schooling in Machilipatnam.
Friday’s press conference — which he said was called as a last resort because “there was no other choice” — is an indication that the judge’s bent for dissent is assuming urgency as he approaches his date of retirement, June 22, 2018. “All our efforts have failed and we are all convinced that unless this institution is preserved, democracy can’t be protected in the country,” he told the media on Friday.
After serving as chief justice of the Gauhati and Kerala high courts, it was in the Supreme Court that Justice Chelameshwar’s inclination towards independent thinking came to the fore. Of all of his brothers on the bench, it was he who has been the most influential in framing the debate on judicial accountability in latter years.
Following his famous dissent note on the NJAC verdict in October 2015, he himself became a member of the Collegium which selects judges. But he preferred to sit out of the proceedings as he felt they were not transparent enough. He instead tendered his observations in writing.
In recent months, as a series of constitutional questions landed up in the Supreme Court, Justice Chelameswar invariably took the liberal view. It was a bench headed by him that referred the Aadhaar case to a nine-judge bench to determine whether or not privacy was a fundamental right. That bench ruled that privacy was indeed an immutable fundamental right. The consequences of that ruling are likely to unfurl in the coming months. The present impasse also had something to do with Justice Chelameswar.
In line to become chief justice
Justice Ranjan Gogoi
A point of some significance amidst the storm in the Supreme Court is the fact that one of the four judges who called Friday’s press conference is Justice Ranjan Gogoi. Significant because it is he who is in line to succeed Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra when the latter retires in October this year. With the country going into a general election in early 2019, and several crucial issues simmering in the apex court, Justice Gogoi’s term at the top is likely to be very eventful.
Should that happen, Justice Gogoi, 64, will be the first judge from Assam to become chief justice of India. Ranjan Gogoi, son of the later Assam chief minister Keshab Chandra Gogoi, joined the bar in 1978 and began practising in the Guhati High Court. He served as a permanent judge of the High Court until transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2012.
He was a part of the seven-judge bench, headed by Justice J S Khehar, that issued a contempt order against Justice C S Karnan on the charge of contempt of court and degrading the judiciary. It was a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi that issued a contempt notice to retired apex court judge Markandey Katju in a review petition on the Soumya murder case. In the hearing, a tense exchange ensued between Justice Gogoi and the controversial Katju, who questioned his ‘treatment’ during the proceedings. Katju complained, “I’m sorry it has come to this. Don’t provoke me.”
Struck down ap’s minority quota
Justice Madan B Lokur
In the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, where Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur served as chief justice in 2012, he was known for striking down the government’s decision to give the minorities a 4.5 per cent sub-quota within the OBC quota. It was a politically sensitive case but Justice Lokur’s bench ruled that the minority quota was based on religion and no other “intelligible consideration.”
The bench said, “In fact, we must express our anguish at the rather casual manner in which the entire issue has been taken up by the central government.” In the Supreme Court, Justice Lokur was one of the judges who ruled that sex with minor wife aged between 15 and 18 years would constitute rape, citing the exception in the rape law was arbitrary and violative of the Constitution.
Born on December 31, 1953, Justice Madan B Lokur, whose father was judge of the Allahabad High Court, was a history grad from St Stephen’s College before moving to study law at Delhi University.
He began practice in 1977 and duly moved to the Supreme Court. He was designated as senior advocate in February 1997 and was appointed as additional solicitor-general of India in 1998.
After entering the judiciary, he rose to be acting chief justice of the Delhi High Court, chief justice of the Gauhati High Court and chief justice of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. He was elevated to the Supreme Court judge in 2012. He is due to retire at the end of this year.