The President of India has appointed Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) with effect from November 9 this year. He will take over as the 50th CJI after incumbent CJI U U Lalit retires.
The outgoing CJI had recommended Justice Chadrachud’s name to take the reins of the judiciary on October 11. Justice Chandrachud will have a term of over two years until November 10, 2024.
“In the exercise of powers conferred by clause (2) of Article 124 of the Constitution of India, the President is pleased to appoint Dr Justice D Y Chandrachud, Judge of the Supreme Court (SC), to be the CJI with effect from November 9, 2022,” read the notification issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice.
Lauded as a feminist judge for his reasoning, Justice Chandrachud spoke to young law graduates recently and told them to incorporate a feminist way of thinking while dealing with the law.
On September 7, he said that the Constitution Bench headed by him will be a ‘green Bench’ and asked lawyers not to submit any papers or physical documents.
He completed his Bachelors with Honours in Economics from St Stephen’s College and then moved on to complete his LLB from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. He then obtained his LLM degree and a Doctorate in Juridical Sciences (SJD) from Harvard Law School.
He practiced law before the SC and the Bombay High Court (HC) and was designated a senior advocate by the Bombay HC in June 1998.
He served as the Additional Solicitor General of India from 1998 until he was appointed a judge of the Bombay HC in March 2000. He was later appointed as Chief Justice of the Allahabad HC on October 31, 2013.
He was appointed judge of the SC on May 13, 2016.
His father Justice Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud was the 16th CJI, serving from February 22, 1978, until the day he retired on July 11, 1985. He is the longest-serving CJI in India’s history at seven years and four months. His nickname was ‘Iron Hands’ due to his unwillingness to let anything slip past him.
Overruled his father’s judgments
Justice Chandrachud had twice disagreed with two of his father’s verdicts.
Thirty-three years after his father upheld the validity of the adultery law, Justice D Y Chandrachud ruled on September 27, 2018, that the earlier view cannot be regarded as a “correct exposition” of the constitutional position.
In his historic judgment of August 2017, he declared privacy as a fundamental right. During the hearing, he had termed the 1976 verdict in the famous ADM Jabalpur case, in which his father was part of the majority judgment by a five-judge Constitution Bench, “seriously flawed”.
In Justice K S Puttaswamy versus Union of India, as a sole dissenter, he held that the Aadhaar was unconstitutionally passed as a money Bill. He also reviewed arguments on specific provisions of the Act which affected an individual’s privacy, dignity, and autonomy.
He wrote a separate concurring opinion in the Navtej Johar versus Union of India that decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and made same-sex intercourse legal. He held Section 377 to be an “anachronistic colonial law”, which violated the fundamental right to equality, freedom of expression, life, and privacy. He added that this could only be seen as a first step in guaranteeing LGBT individuals their constitutional rights.
His concurring opinion in the Shafin Jahan versus Ashokan K M upheld Hadiya’s choice of religion and marriage partner. Hadiya had converted to Islam and married the petitioner Shafin Jahan, at which point her parents alleged she had been brainwashed. He reiterated that an adult’s right to make decisions in marriage or religion falls within her zone of privacy.
In the Indian Young Lawyers Association versus the State of Kerala, he held that the exclusion of women between the ages of 10 and 50 years from Sabarimala Temple violated constitutional morality. He further added that it subverted their autonomy, liberty, and dignity. Uniquely, he held that the custom also violated Article 17, which prohibits untouchability, as it assigns a notion of impurity to women.
He dissented in Romila Thapar versus Union of India regarding the arrest of five human rights activists for allegedly instigating violence at Bhima Koregaon and participating in a criminal conspiracy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He stated that the issue was whether the arrests violated the accused of their fundamental right to free expression and personal liberty enshrined in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. He suggested that a Special Investigation Team probe the arrest of the activists.
In his concurring opinion in the Government of NCT of Delhi versus Union of India, he held that the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) is not the executive head of Delhi. Since representative democracy is an essential feature of the executive, it must be led by the Chief Minister (CM) and Council of Ministers. He held that the L-G is bound by the CM’s advice and has no independent power under the Constitution.
He dismissed the demand for an inquiry into the circumstances of Judge Loya’s death in Tehseen Poonawalla versus Union of India. Judge Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.
In Abhiram Singh versus C D Commachen, the majority in the seven-Bench of the SC held that electoral candidates cannot seek votes on grounds of religion. He delivered the dissenting opinion in the case. He differentiated between blanket communal appeals and grievance-based communal appeals to rule that only the former is prohibited under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
In August 2017, a nine-judge Bench of the SC unanimously affirmed that the Constitution of India guarantees a fundamental right to privacy. He authored the majority decision in Justice K S Puttaswamy versus Union of India speaking for himself and Justices Khehar, R K Agarwal, and Abdul Nazeer. He recognised the right to privacy and dignity as an intrinsic part of the right to life.
In Joseph Shine versus Union of India, he concurred with the majority opinion in decriminalising adultery. He found that Section 497 of the IPC violated Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution. He read down Section 198(2) of the CrPC. He opined that decriminalising adultery was rooted in patriarchal notions and had resulted in centuries of female subjugation.
In the latest verdict, he said unmarried women also have the right to abortion up to 24 weeks which is the same as that for married women.