Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Monday said in open court that the Supreme Court Collegium was not in the know about certain “developments” concerning advocate Victoria Gowri when it recommended her for appointment as Madras High Court judge on January 17, while listing a petition filed by a group of lawyers accusing her of indulging in “hate speech” for urgent hearing on February 7.
The statement made by the Chief Justice of India and the urgent listing of the challenge against Ms. Gowri in the next 24 hours came shortly after Law Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted a list of 13 names of advocates, including that of Ms. Gowri, and judicial officers who have been cleared for High Court judgeships. Ms. Gowri was ninth on the list.
Mr. Rijiju’s congratulatory tweet at 12.12 p.m. on Monday coincided with the CJI originally listing a petition filed by a group of Madras High Court lawyers against Ms. Gowri on February 10.
The Law Minister’s tweet saw senior advocate Raju Ramachandran and advocate Sanchita Ain, representing the lawyers’ group, rush back to the courtroom of Chief Justice Chandrachud at 1.20 p.m., requesting an opportunity to mention the case again, owing to “extraordinary emergency”.
Chief Justice Chandrachud agreed to hear him at 2 p.m. after the lunch break. At 2 p.m., Mr. Ramachandran apprised the re-assembled Bench of what happened during the course of the day. He said that he had both spoken to Attorney General R Venkataramani and supplied him with a copy of the petition.
“Mr. Ramachandran, we have seen your petition. Since you had mentioned it in the morning, we had an occasion to read it… There are certain developments which have taken place, in the sense that the Collegium has taken cognisance of what is drawn or came to our notice after we formulated our recommendation on the basis of the proposal of the Chief Justice of the High Court [Madras]… Now since we have taken cognisance of these developments, what we can do is list this matter tomorrow morning. I will constitute a Bench and let this case go before the appropriate Bench,” Chief Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Ramachandran after a brief discussion with his colleagues Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala on the Bench.
In his short submissions, Mr. Ramachandran said the petition is challenging the “eligibility” of the candidate in question as certain information about her was “kept back” from the Supreme Court Collegium.
“The Collegium was handicapped,” he said.
Mr. Ramachandran referred to the Supreme Court judgment of March 10, 1992 in Kumar Padma Prasad versus Union of India, which had quashed the appointment of an advocate as a judge of the Gauhati High Court on the ground that he was “not qualified” to be on the Bench.
The senior lawyer, referring to the 1992 decision, said the apex court on that occasion had ordered his warrant of appointment to be not given effect and restrained the advocate from “making or subscribing” the oath of judicial office.
“Even at this point, the appointment can be stopped,” the petitioners urged.
Last week, 21 lawyers, including N.G.R. Prasad, Senior Counsel R. Vaigai and V. Suresh, wrote to President Draupadi Murmu urging her to return the Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Ms. Gowri as Madras High Court judge.
However, over 50 advocates of the Madras High Court Bench in Madurai had made a separate representation to the Supreme Court Collegium in support of Ms. Gowri.
In their representation, the advocates expressed surprise that the Collegium had recommended Ms. Gowri, despite her “hate speeches” against minorities, they said, were available in the form of interviews on YouTube and in publications associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
They said the Madras High Court had witnessed many advocates with political affiliation being appointed as judges of the High Court and they had discharged their duty well and unbiased.
The others who have been appointed as Additional Judges include advocates Syed Qamar Hasan Rizvi, Manish Kumar Nigam, Anish Kumar Gupta, Nand Prabha Shukla, Kshitij Shailendra, Vinod Diwakar, Vijaykumar Adagouda Patil, Rajesh Rai Kallangala, Pillaipakkam Bahukutumbi Balaji, Kandhasami Kulandaivela Ramakrishnan, Ramachandran Kalaimathi and K. Govinda Rajan Thilakavadi