[dropcap][/dropcap]Supreme Court Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel’s tenure, marked by pronouncements both widely lauded and panned, ends with his retirement today, July 6, 2018. In fact, Justice Goel’s retirement comes at a time when one of his most recent judgments (along with Justice UU Lalit) diluting the Atrocities Act has been sought for review by the Government of India, but his retirement will be leaving the crucial review petition in a limbo.
Justice Goel served four years as a Supreme Court justice, and was elevated to the apex court in July 2014. Justice Goel has been instrumental in writing verdicts that were widely debated and always noticed. Whether it was the order favouring video recording of court proceedings or the recent one allowing entry of people belonging to all religions and faiths into shrines sacred to Hindus, or the one diluting the provisions of the SC/ST Act and that of Section 498A — Justice Goel has had a tenure full of verdicts that have resulted in discursive arguments.
He graduated from Panjab University and enrolled as an Advocate with the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana in 1974. After practicing for more than 25 years, he was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court in 1999. He was then called to the bench as a Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2001. He further served as the Chief Justice of the High Courts of Gauhati and Orissa, before being elevated to the Supreme Court on July 7, 2014.
Justice A K Goel retires in the forenoon today. He was elevated to the Supreme Court on July 7, 2014. He has served for a span of four years as judge of the Supreme Court. pic.twitter.com/cSjTJdZU26
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) July 6, 2018
A notable judgment delivered by Justice Goel pertains to the speedy disposal of bail pleas. It held speedy trial to be a “reasonable, just and fair” procedure guaranteed and stipulated by Article 21. While addressing obstructions to speedy trials at various levels, including ones stemming from vested interests looking to cause delays, the judgment included directives for High Courts to set a fixed period for conclusion of proceedings, to ensure the unenumerated rights enshrined within Article 21 are upheld.
Justice Goel was also a part of the Bench that delivered the judgement deeming polygamy not to be an essential religious practice of any religion, hence enabling the government to frame regulatory laws. The judgement also held that a Muslim’s fundamental right to practice Islam did not include polygamy. Thus, the question of attracting Articles 15(1), 25(1) or 26(b) to protect a bigamous marriage in the name of religion was dismissed.
In November 2017, a bench consisting of Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit also passed an order favouring audio and video recording of proceedings, in furtherance of “larger public interest”. The Bench remarked that, “Judges don’t need privacy in court proceedings. Nothing private is happening here. We are all sitting in front of you”. They also directed the High Courts to install CCTV cameras in all subordinate courts in a phased manner.
Most recently, on the day preceding his retirement, he passed an order asking the management of the Jagannath Temple Puri to consider allowing entry of people belonging to all faiths so that they may pay their respects to the deity. Additionally, he further availed devotees to move any concerned District Judge to address grievances pertaining to shrines within their jurisdiction.
Apart from the aforementioned, Justice Goel also delivered certain contentious judgments as well.
The judgment delivered in the matter of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra of 2018, dealing with preventing the “misuse” of provisions of The Scheduled Caste and The Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, was highly controversial. Penned with Justice UU Lalit, the verdict pushed the country into widespread turmoil, resulting in numerous instances of rioting and even deaths across the nation, due to contentions raised with respect to the verdict diluting the Act’s provision and hindering the administration of justice to SCs and STs. Despite the government’s plea to roll back the dilution of the SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court maintained its stand, claiming it to be a measure protecting the fundamental rights of people. Justice Goel’s retirement comes at a time when the veracity of this judgment is to be determined as per an intended Central Government ordinance restoring the previous provisions of the Act.
The judgment laying down mandatory guidelines for complaints under Section 498A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, delivered by Justice Goel was also subject to a lot of criticism. Providing for a district-level Family Welfare Committee, comprising of three members, who can be “paralegal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing”, who will verify the complaints along with a special police officer, preventing women already apprehensive to approach the justice system due to its time intensive process, by adding another step to it. Further, by observing that the admittance of such complaints will render reconciliation between couples, the court premises its judgment on problematic grounds, by prioritising the preservation of a marriage over remedying violence faced by women.
It was delivered to remedy the present situation of numerous cases filed under the provision alleging harassment of married women. The guidelines directed for the involvement of civil society to aid administration of justice, in addition to sensitising the investigating officers and concerned trial courts. It also directed the facilitation of closure of proceedings in cases where genuine settlements are reached, instead of the parties being required to move the High Court for that purpose.
There have been other judgments as which feature Justice AK Goel’s opinions as pivotal remarks. During his tenure, Court Room Number 11 has been the point of genesis of unprecedented judgments, quite a few of which have been in furtherance of judicial activism.
[This article was written with inputs from Sejal Sethi and Karan Kumar.]