Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
Over the course of his tenure at the Madras High Court, Justice N Anand Venkatesh has not minced his words while dealing with a range of matters.
Most recently, in a matter concerning removal of a religious structure, the judge noted that Court was duty-bound to intervene, even if it came dealing with the highest of powers.
Born on July 4, 1969, the judge was schooled at St Mary’s School at Perambur. He completed his graduation in B.Com at AM Jain College, Meenambakkam and his Bachelor of Laws at Ambedkar Law college, Chennai.
Justice Venkatesh enrolled in the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry on October 15, 1993. He joined the office of his senior B Ramamoorthy, where he continued till 1997 and thereafter started an independent practice.
A first generation lawyer, Justice Venkatesh took up any case that came his way. As a result, he was able to practice on the original side, appellate side, criminal and and writ jurisdiction before the Madras High Court. He also handled service matters before the Central Administrative Tribunal, Chennai Bench and practiced in the subordinate courts, both on the civil and criminal side. He was appointed as amicus curiae by the High Court on several occasions on the civil and criminal side when it came to adjudicating important questions of law.
Justice Venkatesh was appointed as an additional judge of the High Court in June 2018 and was made permanent in February 2020.
The judge also became a part of Consultation and Drafting Committee which suggested various improvements in the realm of commercial litigation all over the country. It resulted in the enactment of the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act, 2015.
He took a keen interest in sports, particularly Cricket, and has played in the senior division of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Academy. Interestingly, the judge was captaining the Madras High Court judges' team against the Kerala High Court team in a cricket match held on Saturday.
Advocate and legal columnist Sanjay Pinto highlighted that even before pronouncing a “seminal verdict” while hearing a case in 2021, the judge's public admission that he was probably not fully "woke", and the sessions he voluntarily took to change his “preconceived notions” and start looking at the LGBTQIA+ community “as they are”, made for an epoch-making milestone in judicial history.
Pinto described him as a great human being and judge.
Advocate Juliana Sridhar, who practices in the Madras High Court, echoed a similar sentiment and said that Justice Venkatesh had been delivering many landmark judgements ever since he took charge.
“He is a humble, down to earth person with a thirst for knowledge. His judgments speak for themselves. In the case regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, involving two young women of the same sex, he decided to undergo a session with a psychologist to understand the nuances of the issue. He later issued guidelines to ensure the safety of the community and protection from police harassment,” she revealed.
The willingness to educate oneself on LGBTQIA+ issues was a pathbreaking and progressive step taken by an Indian judge. While hearing a case in which two women in a relationship were seeking police protection, he not only admitted to not knowing the intricacies, but was frank enough to say he was trying to break his own pre-conceived notions on the subject.
In his April 2021 order, Justice Venkatesh said,
“I want to give myself some more time to churn. Ultimately in this case, the words must come from my heart and not from my head, and the same will not be possible if I am not fully “woke” on this aspect. For this purpose, I want to subject myself for psycho-education with (psychologist) and I would request the psychologist to fix a convenient appointment for the same.”
The Court also urged the media to consider using a list of words and expressions prepared by the State government to address the LGBTQIA + community.
In February this year, he lauded the State's efforts in introducing an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Subordinate Police Conduct Rules, 1964 prohibiting police officers from harassing LGBTQIA+ persons as well as persons working for the welfare of the community.
In October 2020, the judge, while dealing with a batch of petitions, underlined that cases pertaining to students’ education, especially those in the medical profession, ought to be prioritised.
“It is high time that Courts start showing more seriousness in cases of this nature particularly coming under medical education since the institutions and the candidates must be given a very clear message that any admission that is done in violation of the Regulations, will not be tolerated by the Courts…,” he said.
When COVID-19-related restrictions and duties were cited as an excuse to not fill seats in the government quota in the first two rounds of counselling and the mop-up counselling, the judge’s Bench ordered a CB-CID inquiry into whether there was a conspiracy between the Directorate of Medical Education and self-financing colleges in the filling up of stray vacancies this year.
Opening up on a time when virtual platforms replaced physical spaces, the sitting judge penned a note on how it was essential to create an impact on the lives of others, on an institution or an entire State or the world by our thoughts, words and deeds.
While Justice Venkatesh has been critical of any ineptness on the part of the administration on social issues, he has also lauded its efforts where due.
Earlier this week, on March 25, the judge’s Bench examined a matter where a religious structure had reportedly encroached upon public space. The order also pulled up the local civic body for “washing its hands off” the matter and held that there was no need to add the government as a party to the suit.
Besides, the defendant was stated to have no right to put up any structure on the property, which was used as a street accessible to the general public. The judge underscored that courts could not be “hoodwinked” by encroachments in the name of God.