Supreme Court collegium again backs gay lawyer Saurabh Kirpal for Delhi HC | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court collegium again backs openly gay lawyer Saurabh Kirpal for Delhi HC

By, New Delhi
Jan 19, 2023 05:36 AM IST

According to people aware of the matter, the collegium resolved to reiterate Kirpal’s name to the Union government for his appointment in the Delhi high court as a judge after rejecting the Centre’s objections against his elevation.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court collegium on Wednesday stood firm on its decision to appoint senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal, an openly gay person, as a judge of a constitutional court in India.

Supreme Court collegium again backs Saurabh Kirpal for Delhi high court judge, rejects Centre’s objections
Supreme Court collegium again backs Saurabh Kirpal for Delhi high court judge, rejects Centre’s objections

According to people aware of the matter, the collegium resolved to reiterate Kirpal’s name to the Union government for his appointment in the Delhi high court as a judge after rejecting the Centre’s objections against his elevation.

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The collegium, the people cited above said, maintained that the senior lawyer is eligible in all aspects to be appointed as a judge in a constitutional court.

Also Read: Stalemate continues on Saurabh Kirpal’s elevation to HC

The collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, met on Wednesday afternoon. Apart from reasserting Kirpal’s name, it also took up some recommendations for the appointment in high courts of Madras, Allahabad, Karnataka and Punjab. Around two dozen fresh recommendations were also made by the collegium for high court judges

The collegium’s decision comes at a time when the judiciary and the executive are at loggerheads over the judges’ selection mechanism and the division of powers between the two. Under the memorandum of procedure (MoP) that guides the judicial appointments, the government can only object once if it does not agree with the collegium’s recommendations, but is bound by the decision after the names are reiterated.

It was in November 2021 that the collegium picked Kirpal, 50, who was one of the leading lawyers in the landmark Navtej Singh Johar case that led to the Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality in 2018.

Also Read: The significance of Kirpal’s elevation

His name was recommended to the Centre after a long wait. The Delhi high court first recommended Kirpal for appointment as a judge in 2017, but the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which was tasked with a background check, came out with adverse reports in 2018 and 2019, suggesting that Kirpal’s partner, who is a European national, might pose a security risk.

IB’s objections prompted the Supreme Court collegium to defer its final decision on Kirpal’s recommendation on three different occasions — in January 2019, April 2019, and August 2020.

In March 2021, the then CJI SA Bobde wrote to the Union law ministry demanding more clarity on the government’s reservations against Kirpal’s elevation. The government responded the following month, reiterating its apprehensions against his partner. It maintained that Kirpal’s partner was employed with the Swiss embassy, and that he was working with a Switzerland-based non-profit organisation prior to this job.

Also Read: Who is Saurabh Kirpal, advocate who may become India's first openly gay judge?

Meanwhile, in March 2021, Kirpal was designated as a senior advocate by the Delhi high court after all its 31 judges unanimously endorsed his designation.

Finally, in November 2021, the Supreme Court collegium, headed by then CJI NV Ramana, issued a resolution for Kirpal’s elevation as a judge in the Delhi high court, overruling the central government’s preliminary objections against his candidature. The collegium, at that time also included justices Uday U Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud (present CJI) and L Nageswara Rao.

Since Kirpal’s recommendation by the collegium in November 2021, the government cleared appointment of 11 other lawyers as judges in the Delhi high court, but chose to sit over his name for a year. Finally, through a communication on November 25, 2022, the government sent back Kirpal’s name, raising the similar objections it had earlier flagged.

But the three most senior judges in the Supreme Court collegium remained unimpressed with the government’s arguments, and decided to reiterate Kirpal’s name for the appointment. The people cited above said that a detailed note with reasons is likely to be sent to the Union law ministry along with the reiteration.

The Delhi high court, which has a sanctioned strength of 60 judges, is currently functioning with 45 judges.

HT had contacted Kirpal in June 2022 when the government was still sitting over the collegium’s recommendation. At that time, Kirpal stressed that he would not withdraw his consent for judgeship. “Becoming a high court judge is a matter of public service. It is never about personal ambitions. So long as the causes that I believe in subsist, there is no question of withdrawing my consent,” Kirpal said at the time.

Kirpal was 45 when his name was recommended by the Supreme Court for elevation. A timely elevation would have brought the senior counsel in the zone of a potential chief justice of a high court by virtue of seniority, besides opening doors for his elevation to the Supreme Court.

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