The Verdictum: Ex-Chief Justice of India HL Dattu

The Verdictum: Ex-Chief Justice of India HL Dattu

Aditya AK

Justice Handyala Lakshminarayanaswamy Dattu began his career as at the Bar in the year 1975. He would make the switch to the Bench 20 years later,  appointed as a judge of the Karnataka High Court.

HL Dattu went on to become Chief Justice of two High Courts – Chhattisgarh and Kerala, before being elevated to the Supreme Court of India on December 17, 2008. Nearly six years later, on September 28, 2014 Justice Dattu was made the 42nd Chief Justice of India.

During a tenure that lasted 2631 days, Justice Dattu was involved in a total of 586 judgments and orders. Out of this, he authored 105 judgments.

Though pendency in the Supreme Court reduced during his time as Chief Justice, his tenure was marked with a few controversies. (For a detailed description, read our earlier piece on the ex-Chief Justice.)

As his tenure as Chief Justice of India comes to a close, we chronicle his career at the apex court in numbers.

Month-wise distribution of rulings

Justice Dattu’s productivity was at its peak during the first three months of the year. His most productive month was February, in which he delivered 82 rulings. Not far behind are the months of January (74) and March (62). His least productive month was December, with a mere 26 rulings. October and August also saw a dip in productivity, with 37 and 28 rulings respectively.

Day-wise productivity

After peaking at 0.42 rulings per day in February, Justice Dattu’s daily productivity hovered around the 0.25 rulings per day, dipping as low as 0.17 in August and October. As Chief Justice of India, he delivered 27 rulings in the span of 440 days, bringing his day-wise productivity down to 0.06 rulings per day.

Year-wise distribution of rulings

Justice Dattu’s most productive time was his first year in the Supreme Court, during which time he delivered 173 rulings. However that rate of productivity dropped in the subsequent years; he was part of 75 and 76 rulings in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

From 2014 onwards, the year he became Chief Justice of India, there was a marked decrease in productivity. He delivered a mere 16 rulings in that year and 25 in the last year of his tenure.

YearNo. of judgments and orders

Bench-wise distribution

Justice Dattu delivered 111 rulings sitting with Justice Tarun Chatterjee. Not far behind is Justice CK Prasad, whom he sat with for 105 cases. He sat with Justice DK Jain 62 times and was part of a three-judge Bench 57 times. He was also part of a Constitution Bench twice. He has sat with four Chief Justices of India – Kapadia, Kabir, Sathasivam and Lodha JJ.

Case-wise distribution

A majority of Justice Dattu’s rulings came in civil appeals, which constituted 64.7% of the cases that came before him. He also handled 152 criminal appeals, 2 Arbitration Petitions and a couple of Review Petitions and Curative Petitions.

He adjudicated on a variety of subjects, including tax law, land acquisition cases and labour laws.

Notable Judgments

Justice Dattu was involved in a number of important judgments.

He decided on the cases related to the 2G Scam. In Sunil Bharti Mittal v. CBI, he was part of the Bench which clarified the principle of alter ego. It was held that a company can be held liable for the wrongful acts of its directors, but not vice-versa.

In Essar Teleholdings Ltd. v. CBI, the appellant’s challenge to the jurisdiction of Special Judge prosecuting the 2G cases was dismissed.

He was also part of the Constitution Bench that dismissed the challenge to the constitutionality of the National Company Law Tribunal in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India.

In Major Saurabh Charan v. Lt. Governor NCT Delhi, he was part of the Bench that held that schools must grant admission to children whose parents were transferred to Delhi from other parts of the country midway through the academic year.

Even though SCBA Vice-President was quoted saying that Justice Dattu had confirmed the death sentences of ten persons during his tenure, the former CJI has also exhibited a reluctance to impose the death penalty. This was seen in the case of Gudda v. State of MP and Mohd. Hussain v. State of NCT of Delhi, where death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

He was also a part of the Bench that allowed the Curative Petition filed by Devendra Singh Bhullar’s wife in Navneet Kaur V. Union of India. In that case, the death penalty was commuted to life in prison as the mercy petition took eight years to be disposed.

Quite recently, he was part of the Bench that dismissed IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s allegations that the Gujarat government was trying to stall the investigation into the Godhra riots. Before the apex court, Bhatt sought to implead Amit Shah, and also accused ASG Tushar Mehta of trying to scuttle the investigation.

Image taken from here.

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