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Justice Joseph inducted juniormost SC judge amid raging seniority debate

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 7 August 2018, 17:34 IST
(Arya Sharma / Catch News)

Amid a raging debate over being “downgraded”, Justice KM Joseph Tuesday was sworn in as the junior-most judge in the Supreme Court. He arguably ruffled quite a few feathers within the Bharatiya Janata Party, in power at the Centre, when he quashed President's Rule in Uttarakhand iin 2016.

Notwithstanding the anguish expressed by many, including several SC judges, Justice Joseph was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Dipak Misra at a function in the apex court, following Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran.

This order of seniority was the same as notified by the government in its Warrant of Appointment, which had prompted many to claim the Narendra Modi government was “undermining of his seniority”. it rejected the SC Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph as a judge of the apex court.

Justice Joseph, the longest-serving chief justice of any high court was recommended by the Collegium in January. But the Centre after sitting over the recommendations for a considerable time, in July asked the collegium for reconsideration citing among other reasons his rank (45th) in the overall seniority list of high court judges.

The Centre’s delayed response and sending the recommendation for reconsideration had irked the collegium members, including Justices J Chelameswar (since retired), Kurian Joseph and MB Lokur, who had expressed their anguish to Chief Justice Dipak Misra over the issue.

Only after the collegium reiterated in July its recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph along with chief justice of Madras High Court Indira Banerjee and chief justice of Odisha High Court Vineet Saran as Supreme Court judges, that the Centre relented and accepted the recommendations. However, Centre put Justice Joseph’s name in third position after the other two judges in the order of appointment leading many to cry foul.

Following the issue of the order of appointment several apex court judges went to CJI Misra seeking Justice Joseph be administered oath ahead of the other two judges as his name recommended much earlier than the other two judges.

But on Tuesday there was no change in the order of the swearing in and Justice Jospeh took oath as the junior most judge of the apex court. The Centre has defended the decision insisting that both Justice Banerjee and Justice Saran were senior to Justice Joseph as high court judges.

The order of the swearing-in prompted the Congress to smell “vindictiveness” by the BJP government. Kapil Sibal called it a black day in the history of the court.

Speaking in the same vein, his colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the decision was a punishment by the government for Justice Joseph:

The Congress also took to twitter to express its anguish over the decision:

However, there are others who have held the decision to administer oath last to Justice Joseph contending that the other two judges were senior to him as high court judges. 

International Council of Jurists President Adish C Aggarwala said the government was justified in naming Justice Joseph as the third and last judge in the swearing in list.

“Just because his name was recommended by the collegium earlier doesn’t means he becomes senior to other two judges. While Justice Banerjee was appointed a high court judge on 5 February, 2002 and Justice Saran on 14 February, 2002, Justice Joseph made it to the high court only on 14 October, 2004. The other two judges are fairly senior to him and administering oath to Justice Joseph first would have been a gross injustice to the other two,” Aggarwala told Catch.

Former Delhi High Court judge Justice SN Dhingra too said it was appropriate that Justice Joseph was administered the oath in the last: “Seniority as a high court judge is what matters and in that respect both Justice Banerjee and Justice Saran are senior to Justice Jospeh. Just because you are a favourite of the collegiums or your name was recommended earlier doesn’t mean you can undermine that seniority. Administering oath to Justice Joseph in the last was the apt thing to do,” Justice Dhingra told Catch.

With the elevation of the three new judges, the apex court judges strength has now gone up to 28 (against a sanctioned strength of 31). Also, for the first time the Supreme Court has three sitting women judges – Justices R Banumathi, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee.

First published: 7 August 2018, 17:34 IST