65 decisions a day before retirement: Delhi High Court's Justice Mukta Gupta leaves behind a strong legacy

While members of the legal fraternity often hail Justice Gupta for calling a spade a spade, her decisions reflected a compassionate attitude towards sensitive issues.
Justice Mukta Gupta
Justice Mukta Gupta

On Monday, Justice Mukta Gupta of the Delhi High Court pronounced 65 verdicts on her penultimate day as a judge.

These significant decisions also add to the long tally of verdicts she has either authored or co-authored in her career spanning 14 years.

While members of the legal fraternity often hail her for calling a spade a spade, her decisions reflected a compassionate attitude towards sensitive issues.  

Of the 65 decisions on the day before she retires, a bench she headed commuted the death penalty of a prisoner. In an another decision not too long ago, a bench she headed had awarded 20 years without remission imprisonment to two men convicted in a rape and murder case.

Justice Gupta will retire as the sixth senior-most judge of the Delhi High Court. She is currently the only woman among the ten senior-most judges of the High Court.  

In this article, we take a closer look at the legacy she leaves behind.

Justice Gupta was appointed to the Delhi High Court as an additional judge on October 23, 2009 and confirmed as a permanent judge on May 29, 2014.

She was born on June 28, 1961 and went to Montfort School in Delhi. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences with an honours in Zoology from Hindu College, Delhi University in 1980. 

In 1983, Gupta received her law degree from Campus Law Centre, Delhi, following which she enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi as an advocate in 1984.

High-profile cases as a lawyer

As a lawyer, she argued cases ranging from civil to criminal laws and from constitutional to service matters. 

She was appointed as additional public prosecutor in the Delhi High Court in January 1993 and standing counsel (criminal) for the Delhi government in August 2001. 

As a lawyer, she appeared in several high-profile cases including the Parliament and Red Fort shootout cases, the Jessica Lal murder case, the Naina Sahni murder case and the Nitish Katara murder case, both in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.

As a prosecutor, she secured convictions in these cases.

As a counsel for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), she argued the Naval War Room leak case, the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case and the Madhumita Sharma murder case. 

She was a member of Delhi Legal Services Authority, where she was associated with the issues and programmes for rehabilitation of destitute women, juveniles and prisoners.

In judge’s robes

Since June last year, Justice Gupta has either authored or been a part of over 220 verdicts.

At a farewell ceremony held earlier this month, Justice Gupta bade a tearful goodbye to her colleagues on the Bench and lawyers. In her speech, she highlighted that the ultimate victory of justice was above any outcome that a decision may entail. She reminded those in attendance that granting relief to people was not a charity. 

Judging was not performing a divine duty and the only effort was to ensure justice won in the end, she underlined.

These beliefs resonate with some of the decisions she has authored.

In 2021, a runaway couple had knocked on the doors of the Delhi High Court seeking protection. When the matter reached Justice Gupta’s court, she enquired with the State on the possibility of granting refuge to them.

The State, on the other hand, informed the Court that although a safe house had been opened in Delhi on the lines of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, it concerned inter-caste couples. 

Justice Gupta corrected the counsel and said that safe houses were meant for all type of couples - inter-faith, inter-caste or those belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community - facing resistance from families.

Advocate Utkarsh Singh, who appeared for the petitioners in the case, recalled his time before Justice Gupta's bench as a learning experience.

As a young counsel, I had appeared in a case of gross human rights violation. The most important issue was that the authorities had filed misleading status reports. When the same was brought to the knowledge of the Court, a criminal contempt was initiated against erring police officer,” he said referring to another case.

The case, he emphasised, set a precedent and all the status reports on the criminal side were ordered to be signed and approved by government counsel from then on.

While balancing “mitigating and extenuating” circumstances, Justice Gupta enhanced the jail term of a convict to 20 years in prison without remission in a rape and murder case in May.

Walls of prison, howsoever high they may be, the foundation of a prison is laid on the Rule of Law ensuring the rights to its inmates enshrined in the Constitution of India,” read the beginning of another judgment she authored.

She, therefore, transferred the probe into a prisoner’s murder inside Tihar Jail to the CBI.

At an annual event organised by a forum of women lawyers, the judge had called for encouraging more women to join the legal arena.

Advocate Urvi Mohan was in the audience when Justice Gupta addressed the gathering.

Mohan said that the judge was a source of inspiration for many young women lawyers like her who were trying to create a mark in the typically male-dominated professional space. 

Even as a parting shot to the community of lawyers, she encouraged more women to join the practice area of litigation. She will be truly missed and one can only hope that we are led by more such women of substance who pave the way for the rest of us by setting the right example,” Mohan added.

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