Collegium perpetuates judicial dynasties

As always, fulsome praise was heaped on outgoing Chief Justice of India (CJI) T.S.Thakur at his farewell party on the lawns of the Supreme Court on January 3 at which Justice Jasti Chelameshwar stayed away. He was reportedly isolated due to his differences with the outgoing CJI over the secrecy of the collegium system of appointing and transferring judges. His bluntness may have resulted in him being given inane service matters to decide – much to his chagrin.

Justice Chelameshwar would have been the CJI, were it not for an earlier collegium delaying in elevating him to the Supreme Court. He has rightly pointed out that the collegium system perpetuates judicial dynasties where sons and daughters of judges sometimes get an edge over lawyers with merit but no clout.

A concrete case is the outgoing CJI himself who started practice in his father’s chambers. Justice Devi Das Thakur was the Assam Governor and also judge of the Jammu and Kashmir high court when his son began to practice in his dad’s chambers.

When there are thousands of young lawyers who struggle to earn, Justice Thakur has stirred a hornet’s nest by wanting a constitutional amendment to permit retired Supreme Court and high court judges to practice as lawyers after retirement “because they are lawyers at heart.” He has conveniently forgotten that these retired judges earn huge sums by hearing arbitration disputes and by allowing them to appear in courts, the chances of young lawyers coming up will be blocked as litigants will prefer retired judges.

Justice Thakur was also the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court when Rs 15 lakhs in cash was delivered to Justice Nirmaljeet Kaur by mistake instead of its intended recipient Justice Nirmal Yadav who was later booked by the CBI. The former became the first judge in Bharat’s judicial history to depose in court against her alleged “corrupt” sister judge.

Interestingly, Justice Nirmaljeet Kaur also acquitted actor Salman Khan of killing two chinkaras in Jodhpur in 1998, emulating Justice A.R. Joshi of the Bombay high court who acquitted Salman Khan of killing two persons outside a Bandra bakery in 2002 by alleged drunken driving. Yadav, Kaur and Joshi are all products of the collegium system which does not keep any records. What Justice Thakur has to say about all this will be very interesting.

What should interest Mumbai readers is that Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud, known as “Danny boy” in Mumbai legal circles, will be the 50th CJI in 2022 and serve for the longest term of two years before retiring on 10th November 2024. He is also a product of these so-called judicial dynasties because his father, Justice Y.V.Chandrachud was also CJI during 1975-1986 which included the infamous Emergency. He died on July 13 2008, one day after his 88th birthday and about a year after his daughter-in-law, a brilliant solicitor, Rashmi Chandrachud, died of cancer in Mumbai in 2007.

Poignantly, “Danny boy” would hear complex arguments in the Bombay high court with a beard and sunken eyes for some time after his wife’s death before he met another young lady who revived his spirits. He married her in a private ceremony at his Mumbai home. Justice Chandrachud has two sons, both of whom excel in law with one of them a renowned author-scholar. This proves that those born in privileged legal families have merit and cannot be compared to those from less privileged backgrounds.

Chandrachud was the chief justice of the Allahabad high court (AHC) before he was elevated to the Supreme Court. He presided over a collegium of the AHC which sacked 15 subordinate judges for corruption and negligence. Last year, the Supreme Court sent back 11 names to the AHC for reconsideration as they were found to be related to sitting or retired judges of the same court or to politicians. The AHC is the biggest of the 24 Indian high courts and allegedly a notorious high court where many judges were sons or nephews of sitting or retired judges.

Another example of these judicial dynasties is of senior advocate Iqbal Chagla, son of India’s first CJI M.C. Chagla. Iqbal refused an offer of Supreme Court judgeship in the 1990s, “because I would have had to shift to Delhi and would have been the CJI for too short a time to have made a difference,” he disclosed in the David Sassoon Library last year. Iqbal’s fee for a single appearance in the Mumbai high court is more than that of a Supreme Court judge’s salary. There is no doubt about his outstanding ability at the bar.

Justice Markandey Katju pointed out that most CJIs are reluctant to speak against corrupt subordinate judges for fear of defaming the judiciary which was why the Bombay high court laid down in 1982 that truth was no defense in an action for contempt of court. This resulted in sweeping a large number of scandals involving corrupt judges under the carpet, including the infamous Mysore sex scandal case of three judges of the Karnataka high court.

-by  (The writer holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court)

(This article first appeared on The Free Press Journal on January 6, 2017 and has reproduced here in full.)


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