Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
A little over a fortnight after assuming charge as Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) of the Delhi High Court, Justice Vipin Sanghi and his Bench was in the thick of legal activity. Over the course of the past week, ACJ Sanghi’s Bench dealt with diverse matters, and sparked some crucial developments.
Among these were matters relating to objectionable religious content on social media, the vandalism of the Delhi Chief Minister’s house and recognition of same-sex marriages.
Justice Sanghi was born on October 27, 1961 in Nagpur, Maharashtra and moved to Delhi along with his family in 1965. He completed his schooling at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road in 1980.
Thereafter, he graduated in Bachelors in Science with an Honours in Mathematics from Delhi University in 1983 and joined the Law Faculty, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi for a Bachelor’s degree in law. He completed law in 1986 and enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi as an advocate the same year.
Justice Sanghi happens to be a third generation lawyer after his grandfather Advocate VK Sanghi and father, Senior Advocate GL Sanghi. He initially worked in the office of former Attorney General for India and Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi.
He practiced on the civil and the Constitutional side in the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court and was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Delhi High Court in December 2005.
He was appointed as an additional judge of the Delhi High Court on May 29, 2006 and confirmed as a permanent judge on February 11, 2008.
On March 13, 2022, he assumed office as Acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.
Although Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has appeared before Justice Sanghi only on a few occasions, in his opinion, he is one of India’s “fiercely neutral” judges “with a brilliant mind”.
“One of the fiercely neutral judges of the country with a brilliant mind. Never permits technicalities coming in the way of justice. My personal experience is — he is open till last minute of arguments, literally,” Mehta told Bar & Bench.
President of the Delhi High Court Bar Association and Senior Advocate Mohit Mathur had known the judge before he joined the Bar. He recalled that he got to know him better when he briefed Sanghi, who was then a Senior Advocate, and later while appearing before him.
“Soft spoken, yet always in control of his Court. During the second wave of the pandemic he along with Justice (Rekha) Palli sat through the night to provide oxygen and other medical facilities to the citizens of the city. Something which never came to public domain is that he was so committed to his work that he even told me not to ask for summer vacations to be pre-poned in 2021, as done in some High Courts and Supreme Court, because he felt that keeping the courts open to the public that time would allow some glimmer of hope to the citizenry to seek relief,” revealed Mathur.
On a lighter note, Mathur revealed the judge's affinity for good food, especially street food.
“Purani (old) Dilli style chaat, Rajasthani cuisine and other delicacies. He is a great human being,” Mathur said.
Senior Advocate Vikas Pahwa also recollected how the Bench headed by Justice Sanghi carried on with the hearings in COVID-19 related matters without a pause.
“He held the court continuously for weeks, which speaks volumes about his concern for human rights. He kept the administration on their toes and made sure that the grievances of the people of Delhi regarding hospitals, oxygen, vaccines and medicines were met instantaneously. His humane and equitable approach in dealing with the matters will always be remembered. Since he belongs to Delhi, he is aware of the local issues and the working of the Bar. Hence, his tenure as Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court shall be opportune and propitious,” Pahwa opined.
Calling him one of the most conscientious judges at the Delhi High Court, Pahwa said Justice Sanghi was “extremely hard-working, dedicated to justice,” and someone who had a flair for law.
Pahwa recollected an incident of 2012, when a woman needed a kidney transplant and the judge handled the situation with “utmost priority and sensitivity”.
“He delivered a lengthy judgement on the nuances of TOHO (The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act), directing grant of approval and immediate surgery for her. He held that a patient cannot be deprived of kidney transplant even if the donor is only an acquaintance and not a blood relation,” remembered Pahwa.
Justice Sanghi, he felt, deserved to be in the Supreme Court.
The hearings in the suo motu COVID-19 case, heard by the Bench headed by Justice Sanghi, were of immense significance, especially for its impact on larger public interest. The hearings not only paved the way for a more heightened sense of administrative action, but also brought to light ways to tackle the raging health crisis in the national capital.
The situation prompted Justice Sanghi and his Bench to bring under the judicial lens the day-to-day affairs, requirements and actions on the part of the various arms of the administrative setup, for the optimum allocation of resources.
The hearings, which often went on till late evening, evoked feelings of collective responsibility, grief, and even triumph in times of adversity.
At one hearing, Justice Sanghi remarked,
“Will we shut our eyes to people dying in Delhi?...Enough is enough...who is asking for a dime more than allocated? Don't do this, Don't do that. We don't appreciate this.”
Even as the national capital gasped for air in the wake of the debilitating second wave of COVID-19, Justice Sanghi's Bench called for hospitals and nursing homes to set up their own oxygen plants.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a great leveller, with people from across the socio-economic spectrum running from pillar to post to get hospital beds for their loved ones. In this context, a Bench headed by Justice Sanghi asked the Delhi government to withdraw an order allocating 100 rooms at The Ashok Hotel in Chanakyapuri as a COVID-19 health facility for High Court judges and their families. While doing so, the Court noted,
"Can we as an institution say that you create a facility for us...such and such beds for us. Would it not be patently discriminatory?"
The Court did not hesitate to pull up political leaders and Members of Parliament for hoarding medicines used for the treatment of the virus,
In January 2022, Justice Sanghi's Bench significantly held that a man has a duty to maintain his daughters and take care of their education and marriage even if they have attained majority and are employed and earning income.
Most recently, he was part of the Bench that postponed the Delhi Judicial Services Exams for 2022 after a petition was filed by a practicing advocate challenging the age limit criteria to sit for the exam
On March 28, Justice Sanghi’s Bench questioned Twitter on its role in dealing with blasphemous posts against Hindu deities. He remarked,
“If you feel sensitive you will block and you do not feel sensitive about the other ethnicities or people of other regions. If the same kind of thing was done against other religions you would have been more serious.”
On March 31, his Bench agreed to hear petitions demanding recognition same-sex marriages in the country.
On April 1, Justice Sanghi's Bench called for a report from Delhi Police on the incident of vandalism at the house of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and said,
"We also find that police force is inadequate. Therefore, whosoever was there from Police, it appears they tried to stop them but they were outnumbered."