Gowri’s appointment as additional judge of the high court was notified minutes before the mentioning of petitions at the Supreme Court contesting her recommended appointment on grounds of her bigoted public statements about Muslims and Christians in the past.
MINUTES before the mentioning of two petitions before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking to challenge the proposed appointment of advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri as a judge of the Madras High Court, the Union government notified her appointment as additional judge to the Madras High Court along with four others earlier today. Senior advocates Raju Ramachandran and Anand Grover mentioned the petitions to seek their urgent listing.
The matter was heard at 2 p.m. on Monday by a bench headed by CJI Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud when Ramachandran brought the notification appointing Gowri as judge to the notice of the bench.
After hearing Ramachandran and Grover briefly, CJI Dr. Chandrachud said that the Supreme Court Collegium had taken cognisance of the information that had come to its knowledge after it had recommended her name. The CJI added that he would list the matter for hearing on Tuesday before an appropriate bench.
Ramachandran cited a Supreme Court decision in Kumar Padma Prasad vs Union Of India (1992) in which the Supreme Court had restrained judge K.N. Srivastava from taking oath. Eventually, his appointment was quashed for want of qualifications to be a judge of the high court. Ramachandran added that vital information had not been placed before the collegium regarding Gowri and thus the consultation within the collegium was not effective.
Centre notifies the appointment of five judges to the Madras HC including advocate L.C. Victoria Gowri; ignores Collegium's recommendation to give precedence to the appointment of advocate R.John Satyhan whose name was objected to by Centre for sharing a post critical of PM Modi. pic.twitter.com/fULMqQTSdW
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) February 6, 2023
The appointment has come at lightning speed even as the government had objected to the appointment as high court judge of Chennai advocate R. John Sathyan for, among other things, sharing an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While dismissing the government’s objection to Sathyan’s elevation to the high court bench, the collegium had made it clear that his appointment would have precedence over the names of advocates and judicial officers recommended by the collegium for elevation to the Madras High Court bench on January 17, which includes Gowri. However, the government has ignored the decision of the collegium in this regard.
In addition to Gowri, the government has notified the appointments of advocates Pillaipakkam Bahukutumbi Balaji and Kandhasami Kulandaivelu Ramakrishnan, but it has withheld the names of advocates Venkatachari Lakshminarayanan and Ramaswamy Neelakandan. The collegium had recommended these five names on January 17 this year.
Moreover, the government has notified the elevation to the Madras High Court bench of two judicial officers, namely Ramachandran Kalaimathi and K. Govindarajan Thilakavadi, while holding back the names of judicial officer Periyasamy Vadamalai. The three were also recommended by the collegium on January 17.
The bench was hearing two petitions jointly filed by senior advocate R. Vagai and advocates Devika Rani, Anna Mathew and Sudha Ramalingam. They have flagged the issue of ‘hate speeches’ made by Gowri against minorities, in particular Muslims and Christians. They contend that Article 217 of the Constitution, under which a high court judge is appointed, contains an implied disqualification from being appointed as a high court judge on the ground that the advocate recommended for such appointment by the Supreme Court collegium had consistently indulged in hate speeches against the protected groups of citizens referable to Article 15 of the Constitution.
Article 15 of the Constitution proscribes discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them.
The petition highlights two interviews given by Gowri in which she allegedly said, “Like Islam is green terror, Christianity is white terror”, and went on to state, “Christian groups are more dangerous than Islam groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of love jihad”. She referred to the “nefarious activity of the Roman Catholics” and proclaimed that “Bharatanatyam should not be danced to Christian songs.”
The petition claims that Gowri has a real and apparent conflict of interest between her own strongly held beliefs and views on the one hand and the provisions of the Constitution on other hand, including the secular and democratic values of the Preamble to the Constitution.
It goes on to state that the appointment of Gowri poses a real threat to the free and fair dispensation of justice and to the values contained in the Constitution.
Referring to ‘fraternity’ in the Preamble, the petition argues that fraternity, as a constitutional concept, is umbilically connected with justice, equality and liberty.
The hate speeches rendered by Gowri, the petitioners argue, are against the very idea of fraternity, which the Preamble to the Constitution seeks to achieve by assuring the dignity of the individual, and the unity and integrity of the nation.
Besides, it argues that the people of the country have a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution, of access to free, fair and impartial justice, and this petition is filed for the enforcement of that fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Independence of the judiciary, which is a basic feature of the Constitution, is meant to safeguard the rights of all citizens without any form of discrimination, it contends. The appointment of someone with prejudice against certain groups of persons as a judge would militate against that safeguard, it indicates.