High-impact cases await new CJI
On Monday as Justice Dipak Misra took office as the 45th Chief Justice of India, all eyes were drawn to the decisive pending court issues ranging from the validity of the Aadhaar to the Ramjanma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. After the retirement of Justice JS Khehar, the lead judge of the Aadhaar Constitution Bench, either Justice Misra or Justice Chelameswar will take charge of this Bench. Not only that, Justice Misra may soon set up a Constitution Bench to decide the special status which had been accorded to the State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 35A, a provision incorporated in the Constitution through a Presidential Order in 1954 and not by a Constitutional amendment. Besides, the Supreme Court under the leadership of Justice Misra would also have to set up a five-judge Constitution soon to decide the validity of Section 377 of the IPC that criminalises gay sex.
He may also need to guide the resolution of a prolonged impasse with the government on the finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges and the filling up of judicial vacancies across high courts and the Supreme Court. Justice Misra, who won the accolades as the chairperson of the National Legal Services Authority for exceptional judicial initiatives like Nyaya Sanyog, is now expected to focus on attending to the whopping number of pending cases, over 2.8 crores, resting in the lower courts. While hearing high-profile cases, Justice Misra had never hesitated to express his observation. While In May 2017, he scripted the landmark judgment confirming the death penalty of four convicts in the brutal Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case, terming the convicts as those who 'found an object for enjoyment in her for their gross, sadistic and beastly pleasures for the devilish manner in which they played with her dignity and identity is humanly inconceivable', he also set an example of judicial reasoning and analysis during the past-midnight hearing of Yakub Memon's mercy plea.
One of his landmark judgments was in Court on its own motion vs State, wherein he held that FIRs should be uploaded on the Delhi Police website within 24 hours of their lodging so that the accused can download the same and file appropriate applications before the Court for redressal of grievances. He had always encouraged young lawyers to argue confidently in court. He seems to have a strong sense of conviction, especially while at crossroads facing crucial dilemmas. In 2015, a Bench led by Justice Misra set aside the ban on dance bars under the Maharashtra Police Act while observing that there are other alternatives rather than a ban on dance performances to ensure the safety of women. He also hit the headlines when the Bench he was leading ordered that patrons should stand up in respect with 'committed patriotism and nationalism' when the National Anthem and National Flag are featured before shows in cinema theatres across the country. Justice Misra is hearing a slew of important cases with far-reaching consequences, including the BCCI case for transparency in Indian cricket and the SEBI-Sahara row.
While Justice Misra had upheld the Constitutionality of criminal defamation, he was also a part of the Supreme Court's seven-judge bench – who convicted then sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice CS Karnan, of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment. In a recent judgment, Justice Misra described eve-teasing as a "pernicious, horrid, and disgusting" practice in India. Recently, it was Justice Misra's Bench which put its foot down to ensure that not a single National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) student in Tamil Nadu would suffer because of the State government's proposal to promulgate an ordinance to freeze NEET. The Centre later backed out of promulgating the ordinance. While hearing a case on prenatal diagnostic testing, he came up with the suitable 'doctrine of auto-block.' As Justice Dipak Misra takes over as CJI, the court, through its verdicts, has also predicated the debates that will commence in the coming days.
The idea of the private individual that the higher judiciary has affirmed must now be actualised. Moving forward, the lower courts must also uphold the principles that the apex court has outlined in the specific cases that arise before them. Subsequently, the onus also lies on citizens. The apex court has, particularly through the privacy verdict, provided the tools for individuals to assert their rights, to stand up against any attempts to deny them. By testing and deploying these for the rights of homosexuals, women, the poor and the vulnerable, the idea of citizenship would now embolden with more depth. How CJI Misra shapes the contentious debate on judges' appointments and protects the judiciary's independence would also define the balance between the executive and the court.
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