Kerala High Court Justice VG Arun: Spotlight this week

The judge’s remarks and observations in the cases he heard this week reflected a sensitive and progressive approach to socially relevant issues that don't always assume the spotlight.
Justice VG Arun
Justice VG Arun

Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.

In a significant judgment delivered this past week, the Kerala High Court’s Justice VG Arun upheld the right to be recognized as non-religious in a secular country like India.

The judge was hearing a case filed by a group of students who had cleared their Class XII exams and sought community certificates in the non-religious category for college admission. While granting the students relief, he held,

"As has been often held, the objective of secularism is to ultimately reach a classless society. The declaration by certain citizens that they and their progeny are non-religious can only be perceived as a bold step towards that constitutional goal."

Who is Justice Arun?

Justice Arun was born on January 25, 1964 and obtained an Economics degree from Baselius College, Kottayam. He subsequently received his law degree from Kerala Law Academy, Thiruvananthapuram.

He enrolled and began his practice at the civil and criminal courts at Calicut on January 8, 1989, before moving his practice to the Kerala High Court in December 1990.

He was sworn in as an additional judge of the Kerala High Court on November 5, 2018 and appointed as a permanent judge with effect from September 14, 2020.

Advocate Adithya Rajeev, who worked as a junior to Justice Arun during his lawyering days, described him as "calm, composed and always fair to the opposite counsel and the court." Rajeev recalls following his senior around court on his first day as a lawyer.

He was in the middle of a hearing and the opposite counsel was getting a bit cantankerous. I was expecting my senior to reply in the same coin. But to my utter surprise, there he was, calmly answering the points as if all the taunts from the opposite counsel never bothered him and winning over the court with his unmistakable subtle sense of humour, which he carries with him even today. That is my senior. Calm, composed and always fair to the opposite counsel and the Court.

Advocate Arjun Raghavan, who too has worked with the judge earlier, said that Justice Arun was the editor of Indian Law Reports (Kerala chapter) till his elevation.

A long stint of more than 15 years, being the editor, he was always up to date with latest decisions yet never undermined the importance of good research. When it comes to arguing cases, he would emphasise the importance of good research as also being fully prepared,” said Raghavan.

Raghavan said that almost in all cases that the judge drafted during his practice, the major points would be highlighted.

Also, I haven’t seen even a single instance where he lost his cool. He is always pleasant and composed,” he added.

Noteworthy cases, orders and observations

Justice Arun recently made some pertinent observations in the case of a trans woman athlete who was denied participation in the district level sports competition. The judge's order acknowledged that a trans person had an equal right to participate in competitions.

More importantly, he said if the organisers of the competition hadn’t made arrangements for participation of trans persons, then the petitioner should be permitted to participate in her chosen category.

LGBTQ Rights
LGBTQ Rights

In June, the judge highlighted the existence of an alarming number of fatalities among breast cancer patients due to their inability to afford a life-saving drug that currently enjoys patent monopoly.

As a result, the Central government was asked to consider the drug's compulsory licensing on account of the right to life guaranteed under the Constitution.

The right to life guaranteed under the Constitution, coupled with the State’s duty to improve public health, call for emergent and effective action in the matter,” he said.

Mental Health
Mental Health

In a suo motu case, the judge highlighted the plight of prisoners suffering from mental illness and said,

The system and society presume the voiceless mentally ill prisoners, embroiled in legal quagmire and abandoned by family and friends, to be devoid of knowledge and feeling, thereby turning them into stone.”

A slew of directions, therefore, came to be passed by the judge for the welfare of mentally-ill prisoners.

Why is he in the Spotlight?

The judge’s remarks and observations in the cases he heard this week reflected a sensitive and progressive approach to socially relevant issues that don't always assume the spotlight.

The orders reflected a sense of awareness and showed that the judge was alive to the changing norms in our evolving society.

Religion
Religion

In the students’ case, Justice Arun not only recognised the choice of the individuals to decide how they want to be identified, but also directed the authorities to formulate a plan to issue community certificates to them.

The verdict also underlined the State’s roles in minimising income inequality and eliminating inequality in status, facilities and opportunities among individuals.

Such endeavours should not be confined to considerations based on community, caste or creed,” the Court underlined.

In the same case, the judge earlier said,

I think they should be rewarded for taking such a stance. Our Constitution says we are a secular country and they have chosen to be secular, non-religious."

In another case, the judge crucially noted that those who had died to due to COVID-19 vaccine related complications was “no laughing matter” and directed the Central government to come up with guidelines for disbursing compensation to their kin.

The order was passed in a plea by a woman who sought compensation after her husband reportedly died due to complications arising out of the vaccine.

Covid-19 vaccine
Covid-19 vaccine

The pandemic, the judge said, was a national calamity, adding that the case at hand was genuine.

There has to be an effort to formulate a proper guideline, a proper scheme for compensating these persons and that is being done. Let them bring on record what steps have been taken so that I can pass a reasoned and considered order, rather than an order in vacuum. It is not a laughing matter, I consider it to be very serious,” it was remarked.

In the days to come, the judge will also hear the plea of former Kerala Finance Minister and member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Dr Thomas Isaac, who has challenged the summons issued against him by the Enforcement Directorate in the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Board (KIIFB) case.

Advocate Arjun Raghavan's comments were added subsequently.

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