Who is Saurabh Kirpal, advocate who may become India's first openly gay judge?
First from the LGBTQ community, Kirpal's name has been turned down for elevation to Delhi high court judge for the past four years.
In a historic move, Chief Justice NV Ramana-headed Supreme Court collegium in India has recommended the elevation of senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal as a judge of the Delhi high court. If approved by the Union government, Kirpal may become the country’s first openly gay judge in a constitutional court.
Kirpal’s recommendation was mired with controversy for the past four years due to the Union government’s preliminary objections because of his sexual orientation.
Besides CJI Ramana, Justices U U Lalit and A M Khanwilkar are also part of the three-member collegium which has sought the appointment of Kirpal as a judge.
Here’s what you should know about Saurbah Kirpal:
Graduating with a physics major from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, Saurabh Kirpal went ahead to earn a law degree from the University of Oxford and a masters in law from the University of Cambridge. He then returned to India following a brief stint at the United Nations in Geneva.
The 49-year-old advocate is the son of Bhupinder Nath Kirpal, who served as the 31st Chief Justice of India from May to November in 2002.
Kirpal has been practising at the Supreme Court for more than two decades. He was also the counsel for Navtej Johar, Ritu Dalmia and others in the celebrated case that led to the landmark reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018, thus decriminalising gay sex.
He has written an anthology titled “Sex and the Supreme Court: How the Law is Upholding the Dignity of the Indian Citizen” and is also a board member of the Naz Foundation Trust, a Delhi-based NGO that has been at the forefront of India’s battle against Section 377.
Kirpal was first recommended for elevation in 2017 by the Delhi high court collegium, then led by acting chief justice Gita Mittal. The proposal was approved by the apex court's collegium too. However, the top court later decided to defer the decision on appointing him as a judge.
In an interview to HT in September 2020, Kirpal acknowledged that his sexuality could be the reason behind the Supreme Court collegium deferring the decision as well as the government raising objections.
“Media reports seemed to indicate the issue might have been the nationality of my partner who is Swiss. Had I been a straight man with a foreign spouse, this would not have been an issue; former Supreme Court judges have had foreign spouses. But it became an issue only because I am not,” Kirpal had told HT.
Notably, the SC collegium deferred its decision on Kirpal’s recommendation on three occasions — in January 2019, April 2019 and in August last year. His name was discussed among 18 other proposals, some of whom were cleared. However, Kirpal’s name was held back.
In March 2021, the then CJI SA Bobde wrote to the Union government, seeking additional information and more clarity on its reservations over Kirpal’s name. The Centre reiterated its apprehensions about his partner.
The same month, Kirpal was designated as a senior advocate by the Delhi high court after all 31 judges of the high court unanimously endorsed his designation. The proposal can once again be returned by the Centre. But if his name is sent back for elevation, they have no option but to approve it.