Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
A candid exchange, a critical take and a call for consideration - reflections from the courtroom of Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court made it to the headlines this week.
Justice Chandrachud authored a bail order highlighting that arrests shouldn’t become a punitive tool, and also frowned upon the targeting of judges by the media.
In another courtroom exchange, he recollected his lawyering days when he worked from a 120 square foot office in Mumbai to illustrate the predicament of members of the Bar and why one should be considerate about others.
Justice Chandrachud, whose father, YV Chandrachud, was India’s longest serving Chief Justice, was born on November 11, 1959.
He graduated from Delhi's St Stephen's College in 1979 before completing his LL.B. from Delhi University in 1982 and LL.M. from Harvard University in 1983. He obtained the degree of Doctor of Juridicial Sciences (SJD) from Harvard in 1986.
Justice Chandrachud served as an Additional Solicitor General for India from 1998 to 2000. He was designated as a Senior Advocate in 1998 and appeared in several important cases involving public interest litigation, rights of bonded women workers, rights of HIV positive workers in the work place, contract labour and the rights of religious and linguistic minorities.
He was appointed by the Supreme Court to submit a report on the state of Bombay beaches. The judge taught International Law at Oklahoma University, USA in 1983 and was Visiting Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at University of Bombay from 1988 to 1997. He was the paper setter and Chairman of the Board of Examiners for LL.M. examinations.
As a lawyer, he appeared on behalf of several public bodies including the Reserve Bank of India, port trusts, municipal corporations and universities.
He was appointed as an additional judge of the Bombay High Court on March 29, 2000 and served there till his appointment as Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court on October 31, 2013.
His elevation to the Supreme Court took place on May 13, 2016. He will likely serve as the 50th Chief Justice of India from November 2022 to November 2024.
Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra called the judge creative, innovative and someone who is sensitive towards people's fundamental rights.
"He has the ability to mould relief to ensure justice is done. He is polite and gracious in court and known for encouraging junior members of the Bar,” highlighted Luthra.
Rahul Bajaj clerked for Justice Chandrachud from 2020 till 2021 and emphasised that the judge was extremely supportive of his additional needs as a person with disability.
“I am blind, and I therefore, required some reasonable accommodation when I was working with him — extra time to complete my work, having access to court websites, filings to be in soft copy and in accessible soft copy format and things like that,” shared Bajaj.
Bajaj, a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Oxford, recounted that the judge took special measures to ensure that he was given the accommodation that he needed and made him feel empowered and included.
“When it comes to his jurisprudence and approach to law, I think little needs to be said. His commitment to the Constitution, applying the laws without fear or favour, to doing the best he can in every case that comes before him in advancing the interests of justice. He has an incredible ability to work hard; the amount of work a Supreme Court judge has to do both in terms of volume and complexity is immense. The fact that he is able to do that with diligence and passion and energy day in, day out is a real model for many of us,” he underlined.
In a concurring opinion that led to the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which previously outlawed sexual relations among members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the provision had imposed the sanction of law on consenting adults involved in a sexual relationship and therefore lent the authority of the state to perpetuate social stereotypes and encourage discrimination.
"Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders have been relegated to the anguish of closeted identities," he said.
The opinion also empathised with the identities of the 20 petitioners, narrating the hardships they faced in their day-to-day lives.
He deliberated upon how the delineation of “public" and “private" spaces affected the lives of the members of LGBTQIA+ community and why it was imperative that the protection granted for consensual acts in private must also be available in situations where sexual minorities are vulnerable in public spaces on account of their sexuality and appearance.
Justice Chandrachud was the lone dissenting judge on a nine-judge Constitution Bench which held the Aadhaar Act to be unconstitutional for having been passed as a Money Bill.
“The Aadhaar Act, the Rules and Regulations framed under it, and the framework prior to the enactment of the Act are unconstitutional,” he had held.
He also underlined the need for introducing strong privacy protection laws and instilling safeguards to address the concerns associated with the Aadhaar scheme that in his opinion “severely impairs informational self-determination, individual privacy, dignity and autonomy”.
At a lecture in organised in memory of former Bombay High Court Chief Justice MC Chagla, he emphasised on the importance of information disseminated by the press and the power to influence public opinion that the fourth pillar of a democracy holds. Stressing on the need to ensure absolute freedom of the press, he said,
“There is no denying that the phenomenon of fake news is on the rise. We must strive to ensure that we have a press free of influence of any kind - political or economic which will provide us information in an unbiased manner."
Speaking on the exclusion of persons belonging to marginalised communities, the judge urged the privileged to break the historical cycle of "othering" such communities and conferring respect and recognition on people belonging to them.
Under the Chairmanship of Justice Chandrachud, the Supreme Court E-Court Committee has been instrumental in creating infrastructure for live-streaming of court proceedings in India, especially at a time when hearings were severely impacted owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest announcement revealed that the E-courts project aims at hosting virtual proceedings and their recording on its own server instead of a third party server.
As a proponent of technological advancement in legal ecosystem, he has also acknowledged the existence of digital divide in the country, while stressing on bridging the gap for litigants and members of the Bar.
In an order granting bail to AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair, Justice Chandrachud highlighted that the power of arrest wielded by the police was not unbridled.
Reiterating the guidelines laid down in the Arnesh Kumar case, the judge said,
“Individuals must not be punished solely on the basis of allegations, and without a fair trial. When the power to arrest is exercised without application of mind and without due regard to the law, it amounts to an abuse of power.”
The verdict, therefore, reflected the crucial aspects of bail jurisprudence.
During another hearing, the judge shared a personal anecdote urging a petitioner to think in the interest of the Bar. The issue pertained to allotment of chambers on a twin-sharing basis for which the petitioner expressed his disappointment at the chambers being too small.
"I had a chamber of 120 square feet in Mumbai. But still we conducted our affairs. Delhi is also becoming like Mumbai," Justice Chandrachud remarked.
In another instance, he addressed the media’s criticism of judges not taking up matters. To dispel the conjecture that had arisen, Justice Chandrachud cleared the air by expressing his inability to hear a matter on account of illness.
“Give us judges a break. I was down with Covid and hence, the matter was deferred. I read in the news that judges are not taking it up. There is a limit to targeting us," he said.