My family and I were victims of judicial delay: Justice R Banumathi bids farewell to the Supreme Court

Justice R Banumathi was the only sitting Supreme Court judge to be elevated from the subordinate judiciary, and one of three woman judges at the Apex Court.
Justice R Banumathi
Justice R Banumathi

Justice R Banumathi, who is set to retire on July 19, sat as a Supreme Court judge for the last time today. In a farewell function held for her, she revealed that in her early life, she was a victim of judicial delay and complicated procedure.

The judge revealed her story during the virtual farewell held for her today by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA).

Justice Banumathi revealed in her farewell speech that she lost her father in an accident when she was only two years old. She recounted that she, along with her mother and two sisters, was unable to procure compensation for the accident on account of long-drawn court processes and in the absence of adequate assistance.

"I lost my father in a bus accident when I was of 2 years old. In those days, we had to file a suit for compensation. My mother filed the claim and the court passed a decree but we could not get the amount due to complicated procedures. Myself, my widowed mother, and my two sisters... we were victims of Court delay and its procedural lags."

Justice Banumathi said that it was because of her mother’s efforts to ensure that the three sisters were educated that she joined the judicial services. Before her retirement, she was the only sitting Supreme Court judge to be elevated from the subordinate judiciary.

In a career spanning over three decades, Justice Banumathi served as District Judge at various places in Tamil Nadu before being elevated to the Madras High Court. She served as Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court before her elevation to the Supreme Court.

In her address, Banumathi J said that people often complain that there is a huge backlog and pendency of cases. She wished to highlight the positive efforts taken to reduce this backlog. She said that the various steps taken to digitise the system have helped in making the justice system easily accessible, a feature that was not available until the last decade.

Justice Banumathi took the opportunity to thank all the members of the Bar who appeared before her in all courts, right from the District Courts to the Supreme Court. She said,

“I don't know how but all the Bar members were always prepared and very thoroughly ready always while appearing before me in my Court.”
Justice R Banumathi
Justice R Banumathi

The patience and encouragement with which justice Banumathi gave time and liberty to all counsel arguing before was praised by Attorney General KK Venugopal and SCBA President Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave.

AG Venugopal said that the Supreme Court is losing a great judge, and wished Justice Banumathi all the best for her future. The AG expressed hope that the judge would be back at legal work by presiding over arbitration disputes.

Dave expressed deep gratitude to Justice Banumathi for sharing the very personal story of her difficult and humble beginnings. This inspiring story of the judge is sure to make her a role model, particularly for the young members of the Bar, Dave said. He added that the “void” and “vacuum” left behind after Justice Banumathi’s superannuation is a gap which will be “very difficult to fill by the Collegium”.

Various sitting judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts also participated in the online farewell held for Justice Banumathi who thanked all her brother and sister judges she has worked alongside throughout her career.

Justice Banumathi’s retirement will leave the Supreme Court with only two woman judges.

SCBA Vice President Kailash Vasdev had delivered the welcome address. The vote of thanks was proposed by Acting Secretary of the SCBA, Advocate Rohit Pandey.

Justice Banumathi joined the Tamil Nadu Higher Judicial Services as a district judge through direct recruitment in 1988. She was elevated as a judge of the Madras High Court in April 2003. In November 2013, she was appointed as Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court, where she served for less than a year before being elevated to the Supreme Court in August 2014.

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