On 7 October 2022 as per constitutional protocol, the Ministry of Law and Justice had directed via an MoP (memorandum of procedure) on the appointment of the Chief Justice of India and Supreme Court judges, to the present CJI for sending his recommendations for his successor. On October 11, 2022, the current CJI Justice Umesh Uday Lalit recommended the name of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud as his successor in the presence of other Supreme Court judges. Justice UU Lalit had taken charge in August 2022 from the former CJI N.V. Ramana. After a brief tenure of 74 days, Justice U.U. Lalit will retire from the CJI position.
On 17 October 2022 President of India, Droupadi Murmu appointed Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud as the Chief Justice of India effective from November 9, 2022. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is presently the senior-most judge after the CJI. He would have a tenure of two years and demit office on 10 November 2024. Justice Chandrachud will be the 50th CJI of India.
How is the CJI appointed in India?
Under clause (2) of Article 124 of the Indian Constitution, the President is responsible for the appointment of the Chief Justice of India and other Supreme Court judges, after consultation with the sitting judges of the Supreme Court if it may deem necessary.
Apart from being an Indian citizen, the essentials for becoming the CJI of India are -
The person must have been for at least five years a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession, or
Have been for at least ten years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession, or
Be in the opinion of the President, who is a distinguished jurist.
Earlier for more than two decades, India has followed the old collegium system, for the appointment of judges, which consists of five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. When the names were first suggested by the collegium the central government used to get a background check done by the International Bureau. Although, between the government and the collegium, the decision of the collegium prevails. However, the term ‘collegium’ is not mentioned in the Indian Constitution, rather it only mentions the President taking ‘consultation’ from the sitting judges during the appointment process.
Due to its ambiguities, this method of appointment was being challenged in the courts severally, leading to a landmark decision in First Judges Case, where it was held that recommendations made by the CJI to the President can be refused for cogent reasons, which automatically made the President in a more influential position in deciding the appointments.
However, with subsequent cases and judgements, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines in the Third Judges Case, that decisions for the appointment of CJI and other Supreme Court judges will be taken by a majority of the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. The country follows this collegium system with an aim to keep the judiciary independent from the executive in matters of appointment.
Hence, after the collegium’s recommendations are finalised and received from the CJI, the Law Minister will put up the recommendations to the Prime Minister who will advise the President on the matter of appointment.
Besides the adjudicatory role, the CJI also plays the role of the administrative head of the Court. In the administrative capacity, the Chief Justice exercises the prerogative of allocating cases to particular benches. CJI also decides the number of judges that will hear a case.
It is also to be noted that the CJI can be removed by an order of the President only after an address by Parliament has been presented to the President. This should be supported by a special majority of each House of Parliament, i.e., by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting. However, according to Article 124 (4), the CJI can be removed directly if there is evidentiary proof of misbehaviour or incapacity
Who is Justice D.Y. Chandrachud?
Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud, presently the executive chairman of National Legal Services Authority, is the son of former CJI Justice Y. V. Chandrachud, who has been the longest serving CJI of India (1978 - 1985), and his legacy will now be taken ahead by his son, making this the first time a father and son have held the position. Justice Chandrachud completed his BA with Honours in Economics from St Stephen's College in New Delhi, after which he took up an LLB course from the Campus Law Centre of Delhi University. Advancing his understanding of the legal arena further, he opted for an LLM and Doctor of Jurisprudential Sciences (SJD) degrees from the renowned Harvard Law School in the United States.
He practised as an advocate in the Supreme Court and the High Courts of Gujarat, Calcutta, Allahabad, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi before becoming a judge of the Bombay High Court. he became one of the youngest lawyers to be designated senior advocate in the country at the age of 39 years, and was soon raised to the ranks of Additional Solicitor General of India from 1998 - 2000. On 29 March 2000, he was appointed as an Additional Judge of the Bombay High Court. He took oath as the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court on 31 October 2013, three years after which he was appointed to the Supreme Court.
Apart from his contributions to the judiciary, Justice Chandrachud was also a visiting professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Mumbai, as well as a visiting professor at the Oklahoma University School of Law, US.
Justice Chandrachud has often been seen batted for his liberal and progressive views such as the higher representation of women in the judiciary, freedom of expression and press freedom. He can also be credited for the work done by the Supreme Court’s e-committee on the e-courts programme under his chairmanship. Chandrachud, chairman of the e-committee, also oversaw the top court’s move to a virtual hearing system during the pandemic.
Notable Judgements by Justice D.Y Chandrachud
Right from stressing the importance of dissent as the security valve of democracy to overturning his father Justice YV Chandrachud’s judgement (relating to fundamental rights in the ADM Jabalpur case), Justice DY Chandrachud’s judgments and opinions have often paved the way for many reforms. They have also received appreciation for being progressive in their interpretation of the law.
Some of the key rulings given by Justice Chandrachud are as follows:
Abortion rights for women (X vs Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Govt of NCT Of Delhi)
In 2022 a petition filed by a 25-year-old unmarried woman seeking an abortion, the bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice AS Bopanna, and Justice JB Pardiwala passed a landmark judgment upholding the rights of reproductive autonomy of an unmarried woman.
“The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy give an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on the same footing as that of a married woman,” said Justice Chandrachud.
The judgment held the right of married/unmarried women to seek abortion of pregnancy in the term of 20-24 weeks arising out of a consensual relationship. The judgement also recognised marital rape, in the case of such abortions.
Right to Privacy (Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v Union of India)
In August 2017, a nine-judge bench gave a unanimous verdict guaranteeing the fundamental right to privacy. Writing the lead opinion, Justice Chandrachud recognised the right to privacy and dignity as an intrinsic part of life. “Life and personal liberty are not creations of the Constitution. These rights are recognised by the Constitution as inheriting in each individual as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the human element which dwells within,” Justice DY Chandrachud said.
Interestingly, this judgement overruled a previous judgement which held that fundamental rights could be suspended during a time of Emergency. One of the judges who passed that verdict was his father, Justice YV Chandrachud.
Sabrimala verdict (Indian Young Lawyers Association v State of Kerala)
A five-judge bench upheld the right of menstruating women to visit the temple. Justice D Y Chandrachud held that the debarring of women belonging to the age group of 10-50 years by the Sabarimala Temple was contrary to constitutional morality and that it undermined the ideals of autonomy, liberty, and dignity. He added that such stigmas are not constitutionally supported.
Hadiya Marriage case (Shafin Jahan v Ashokan K.M)
Hadiya, who was a Hindu, had converted to Islam and married Shafin Jahan, a Muslim. Kerala High Court had annulled the marriage and ordered Hadiya to be placed in the custody of her parents.
In a unanimous judgement, the bench ruled against the Kerala High court. Justice Chandrachud wrote in his judgement that the Kerala High Court had touched upon an area which is out of bounds for a constitutional court.
“The High Court believed that at twenty-four, Hadiya is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways. The High Court has lost sight of the fact that she is a major, capable of taking her own decisions and is entitled to the right recognised by the Constitution to lead her life exactly as she pleases. Intimacies of marriage, including the choices that individuals make on whether or not to marry and on whom to marry, lie outside the control of the state. Courts as upholders of constitutional freedoms must safeguard these freedoms. Interference by the State in such matters has a serious chilling effect on the exercise of freedoms,” the judgement said.
Decriminalising Section 377 IPC - Same-Sex Relationship (Navtej Johar v Union of India)
In a historic judgement, a five-judge bench – then CJI Dipak Misra, Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra – decriminalised ‘unnatural sex between two consenting adults.
“The choice of a partner, the desire for personal intimacy and the yearning to find love and fulfilment in human relationships have a universal appeal, straddling age and time. In protecting consensual intimacies, the Constitution adopts a simple principle: the state has no business to intrude into these personal matters. Nor can societal notions of heteronormativity regulate constitutional liberties based on sexual orientation,” said Justice Chandrachud in his judgement.
Decriminalising Section 497 IPC - Adultery (Joseph Shine v Union of India)
Justice Chandrachud concurred with the majority opinion in decriminalising adultery. He found that section 497 IPC violated Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. He read down section 198(2) CrPC. He opined that decriminalising adultery was rooted in patriarchal notions and had resulted in centuries of female subjugation.
Justice Chandrachud, during his tenure, has remained a voice of reason, dispensing justice through his decisive, fiercely independent and humane decisions. He has been associated with a string of high-profile and other important cases of social and constitutional importance. From his judgments on privacy to gender rights, justice Chandrachud is known for his progressive views on personal liberty, fundamental rights, and autonomy.