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Know the 4 ‘rebel’ senior Supreme Court Judges

Justice J. Chelameswar

Justice Chelameswar was made a Supreme Court judge in 2011, on the same day as the current CJI, Deepak Mishra was appointed. According to an Economic Times report, this appointment came “after an unexplained delay”. which the report claims “denied him the chance to be chief justice of India”. A similar claim is made by another report. Nevertheless, National Lawyers’ Campaign (NLC), a lawyers body, had filed a writ petition asking the SC to consider representations seeking Justice Chelameswar’s appointment as the next CJI. The petition was struck down.

Justice Chelameswar is most widely known for his lone dissenting voice during the verdict on the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) legislation. The NJAC which was proposed by the Modi Government to replace the collegium system, was rejected by all the judges hearing the matter, except Chelameswar, who favoured the move. He has been a staunch critic of the collegium system deeming it “opaque”.

He had even sent a communication to the then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, expressing his disinclination to participate in the collegium meetings. This letter though was preceded by an unsavoury incident in the collegium meeting. A report claims that in one such meeting, the collegium had to decide on the transfer of a judge who had practised law with Justice Chelameswar’s son. Once this “conflict of interest” was pointed out, he recused himself, but did not leave the meeting room.

More recently, he had a head-on clash with the current CJI when a 5 judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court (which consisted of the CJI himself) overturned Justice Chelameswar headed bench’s order in the Orissa HC judge bribery case. The issue revolved around the assignment of cases and whether the CJI could assign them as per his wishes. In the latest letter, the 4 “rebel” judges alluded to these issues.

He has been involved in some high-profile judgements such as the one which said that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was unconstitutional. He was also a member of the three-judge Bench which confirmed that the Aadhaar card is not compulsory and that officials who insist on them will be taken to task.

Justice Lokur

Justice Lokur hails from a highly respected family of judges, his father and grandfather were high court judges. His father Justice Bhimrao Lokur was law secretary in the Union Law ministry and later judge of the Allahabad HC. His grandfather Justice N B Lokur was a district judge in Dharwad and later served in Pune and became a judge in the Bombay High Court.

Justice Lokur himself was appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India in 1998. He continued in that post till he became an Additional Judge of Delhi HC in 1999. He was elevated to the post of a Supreme Court Judge in 2012.

In November 2016 the then CJI, TS Thakur dropped Justice Lokur as chairman of the apex court’s e-Committee and substituted him with retired Rajasthan HC chief justice Sunil Ambwani. He was reportedly unhappy with this move, since the then CJI had not even informed him about this, even though Justice Lokur had overseen the committee for 4 years. But very soon, in January 2017, the new CJI JS Khehar, reinstated Justice Lokur on the committee.

In a display of transparency, during the bench hearing of the sensitive coal allocation scam in the Supreme Court. Justice Lokur, who was a part of the bench, offered to withdraw from the case after announcing that he and his wife had shares in Reliance Infrastructure, which was in contention for a coal block. It is reported that the senior lawyer for CBI, Amarendra Sharan, assured the judge of having full faith in him and said, “Even if your lordship owns half the shares in Reliance, the CBI has no objection.”

By virtue of the Supreme Court convention that the outgoing Chief Justice of India selects the most senior then-sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice Lokur too will never get a chance to be the CJI.

Justice Gogoi

Justice Gogoi is the son of Keshab Chandra Gogoi , who shortly served as the Chief Minister in a Congress Government in Assam. He is also the brother of Air Marshal Anjan Kumar Gogoi, who was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2012. Justice Gogoi is next in line, to be the Chief Justice of India.

Justice Gogoi, had recused himself from the aforementioned writ petition filed by NLC, to consider representations seeking Justice Chelameswar’s appointment as the next CJI. Justice Gogoi is also known for the case in which he issued a contempt notice to former Justice Katju. Katju had written a scathing blog criticising Supreme Court judges.

In another case, ad advocate has asked Justice Gogoi to recuse himself from hearing the case, since he claimed that  Justice Gogoi had allegedly met members of the respondent company’s management. The reply from the court implied that Justice Gogoi would himself have realised from the case record during the normal course of hearing if there was a conflict and would have recused himself. Further, Justice Gogoi himself referred the matter to the Bar Council of Delhi and the Bar Council of India for taking up appropriate action in respect of the conduct of the advocate.

Justice Kurian Joseph

Justice Kurian Joseph is as of now the sole sitting Christian judge of the Supreme Court. In the year 2000, Justice Kurian was appointed as the judge of Kerala High Court and it was in 2010 he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court. Justice Kurian Joseph was appointed as a Judge in Supreme Court on 8th March 2013.

Justice Kurian Joseph has presided over many notable cases the most recent being the Triple Talaq case where he had the deciding vote and had observed, “Triple talaq is against the tenets of the Holy Quran and hence violates Shariat… It is extremely difficult to agree with the CJI that triple talaq is integral to the practice of Islam. What is bad in Quran cannot be part of Shariat.”

Another prominent case that Justice Kurian was a part of was that of the petition filed by death row prisoner Yakub Memon challenging the death warrant issued against him, along with an intervention Application by The Centre on the Death Penalty at National Law University. It was reported that the petitioner got unexpected support from Justice Kurian when he observed that the Supreme Court did not follow procedure while listing the curative petition.

The other times Justice Kurian featured prominently in the news was when he had asked the Centre to revise Leave Travel Concession (LTC) and had sought 8 LTCs as opposed to the 3 LTCs that were being granted.

The other time he featured in the news was when Supreme Court Chief Justice HL Dattu had held a conference on Good Friday and Justice Kurian had written to Prime Minister Modi saying that he refused to work on Good Friday and there was a need to protect the secular fabric of the country.

Justice Kurian had also alluded to the fact that the Collegium system needs to be improved.

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