“Constitutional courts are those courts which have the vision, which can think in future, which will not simply be implementing the executive instructions or legislative instruments, but which will think what exactly has to be done in the matter and then provide guidance to the executive and legislative apparatus”.

– Justice Uday Umesh Lalit1

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” – an ancient wisdom of unknown origin but popularised by Spiderman! However, it drives the point that a position of leadership, gives an individual the power to effect change; a power that requires a sensible bearer who can use it responsibly.

The afore-stated wisdom is enough to make us reach an epiphany regarding the hopes and expectations that surround the title of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. From managing the day- to- day workings of the Court, appointments, supervision etc., to ensuring a proper dispensing of justice, none of these responsibilities and powers are greater or lesser than the other because they are connected to provide the ultimate result of warranting a smoothly functioning judiciary effectively capable of following and upholding the principles of justice and fairness.

 

In a retirement heavy 2022, the Supreme Court is gearing up to bid adieu to Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, who retires today after serving 8 years as a Supreme Court Judge and as the Court’s 49th Master of Roster after an action packed 74-day tenure. Today, he leaves behind the hallowed halls of the Apex Court after accomplishing his objective of attempting to fine tune the judicial machinery, thereby injecting a much- needed optimism within the legal community. Hence, it is only fitting, that we step back in the past to look through Justice Lalit’s tryst with law and to know him a little bit more.

Early Life

Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was born on 09-10-1957, in Solapur, Maharashtra to Retd. Justice Umesh Ranganath Lalit. Justice Lalit’s family originally hailed from Konkan, but moved to Solapur when his grandfather, Ranganath Lalit, began practicing law2.

Justice Lalit attended Haribhai Deokaran High School in Solapur and did his graduation in Law from Government Law College, Mumbai.

* A Century of Legal Legacy-Justice Lalit’s family has been associated with law for close to 100 years. While his grandfather, Ranganath Lalit practised law in Solapur much before India gained independence and chaired two separate civic receptions when Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru visited Solapur; his father U.R. Lalit was an Additional Judge of the Bombay High Court Nagpur Bench and a Senior Counsel at the Supreme Court3.

Career as an Advocate [1983- 2014]

Justice Lalit joined the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa in 1983 and began his legal practice with M.A. Rane, a proponent of humanist school of thought4. Specialising in Criminal Law, Justice Lalit continued his practice in the Bombay High Court till 19855.

Shifting his practice to Delhi, Justice Lalit worked in the chambers of P.H. Parekh and Company before joining former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee’s office in 1986 where he continued till 19926. In 1992, Justice Lalit qualified as an Advocate on Record7 and in 2004, he was designated as a Senior Advocate8 and also served as a member of the Supreme Court’s Legal Services Committee for two terms9.

*An Observer and Learner- As a young lawyer who was still finding his feet in the Supreme Court, Justice UU Lalit used to carefully observe Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy conduct their courts. He also fought many cases pro bono10.

Significant Representations

During his years as an advocate, Justice Lalit represented several high-profile personalities like-

  • In 1994, Justice Lalit represented former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, in a matter connected to the Ayodhya Land Dispute.
  • Justice Lalit represented Salman Khan in his 1998 poaching case, when the actor was charged with killing two blackbucks11.
  • Justice Lalit represented Navjot Singh Sidhu in State of Punjab v. Navjot Singh Sidhu, 2006 SCC OnLine P&H 1562, in a matter of commission of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
  • Justice Lalit appeared in the P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 6 SCC 537, before a 7- Judge Constitution Bench, which was deliberating over the obligations of professional unaided (minority and non-minority) educational institutions.
  • Supreme Court v. Itself – Justice Lalit represented the petitioners in Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 2 SCC 673, wherein the 5-Judge Constitution Bench held that law laid down by a larger bench of the Supreme Court is binding on any subsequent bench of lesser strength.

In 2011, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly, appointed Justice Lalit as CBI’s Special Public Prosecutor in all the 2G Spectrum scam cases12.

Furthermore, Justice Lalit was also appointed as Amicus Curiae (A Friend of the Court) in many important matters pertaining to environment like T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad (106) v. Union of India, (2008) 9 SCC 711 and T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2010) 13 SCC 316.

The Supreme Court of India [2014-2022]

In July 2014, the Supreme Court Collegium headed by then Chief Justice of India, R.M. Lodha, recommended U.U. Lalit’s name for elevation to the Supreme Court as a Judge, which was accepted and thus Justice Lalit was appointed as a Judge on 13-08-2014.13

*From the Bar to the Bench- Justice UU Lalit became the 6th Senior Advocate to be directly elevated to the Supreme Court14.

As the Chief Justice of India

*Did you Know That? Justice UU Lalit is the second Chief Justice India to have been appointed directly from the Bar, without serving as a Judge of a High Court!15

After an expansive 8-year tenure as a Supreme Court Judge, Justice UU Lalit took over the mantle of Chief Justice of India for the remaining part of his term in the Supreme Court. The outgoing Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, named Justice Lalit as his successor and on 27-08-2022, he took charge of the Supreme Court as its 49th Chief Justice.

Challenges and Focus Areas

*The Man with A Plan! Justice Lalit had a short tenure of 74 days as Chief Justice of India!16

When Justice Lalit took over the duties of Chief Justice and Supreme Court’s Master of the Roster, he naturally had a burden of expectations from within the legal fraternity and the public at large.

Showing his mettle to deal with the challenges head on, Justice Lalit was already prepared with his list of focus areas that needed his attention and prioritisation. There were clear indications that he was all set on improving the efficiency of the judicial process while balancing it out with the limited resources at his disposal17. Given his short tenure as Chief Justice, it was practically a race against time. Some of the highlighted focus areas were –

  • Listing of Matters:I assure you that we will strive hard to make listing as simple, as clear and as Transparent as possible.”
  • Mentioning of matters: “Very shortly we will have a clear-cut regime where any urgent matters can freely be mentioned before the respective Courts.”
  • Listing of matters before the Constitution Benches and matters referred to 3-judge Benches: “I have always believed that the role of the Supreme Court is to lay down the law with clarity and consistency and the best possible way to do it is to have larger Benches as early as possible wherever the matters are referred to such benches so that the issues get clarified immediately, the matter has consistency and people are well aware of what exactly are the contours of the peculiar positions of law.”
  • He added that he will work towards ensuring that the Supreme Court always has at least one Constitution Bench functioning all throughout the year.

Reforms Undertaken

  • Shortly before Justice Lalit’s tenure began the Supreme Court announced that it will hear 25 pending Constitution Bench cases starting from 29-08-202218. Sweeping administrative changes were made, especially transparent and prompt listing of cases. In the month of September, the Court divided its judicial time between long-pending regular cases and public interest petitions. The month-end saw a drop in backlog cases19.
  • Major decisions were taken in the Supreme Court after Full Court meetings. One of such significant decisions taken during a Full Court meeting was live streaming of the Constitution Bench hearings20.
  • During the proceedings in Lalit’s courtroom, cases of personal liberty such as bail and anticipatory bail matters were given urgent hearing when mentioned. Furthermore, a change was introduced in the order in which cases were heard by the Supreme Court on a daily basis. This meant that fresh cases were taken up for hearing in the post-lunch session, while long-pending cases requiring detailed hearings were heard in the morning. This new format was a reversal of the system that was in place before Lalit took charge. This change ensured that several cases that had remained in cold storage for long durations finally got the required hearing21.

Changing The Statistical Scenario

  • While presiding on thedaisas the Chief Justice, the Bench headed by Justice UU Lalit heard around 60 matters in a time span of around 2.5 hours22.
  • Shortly after assuming office on August 27, Justice Lalit stated that the Supreme Court achieved the feat of disposing of 1,842 cases over four days23. Moreover, the case pendency in Supreme Court stood at 69,461 on October 1, as against 70,310 on September 1, according to statistics published by the Supreme Court24.
  • Justice Lalit’s first day as Chief Justice marked a path for a new beginning with close to 600 cases being heard in the Supreme Court on Monday. Out of nearly900 petitions listed before the Court, around 592 of them were actually cases which were heard for the first time, though their filing was either of this year or they were filed in some time last year25.
  • In an exclusive report published by India Today, it was stated that over 16,000 were cases listed and almost 4,000 were cleared by SC within first 12 days of Justice Lalit’s tenure as Chief Justice.26
  • As many as 106 old matters pending for 10 to 12 years were decided within four days27.

Notable Judgments

Some Recent and Notable Judgments that Justice U.U. Lalit has been a part of –

Constitutionality of EWS Reservations

In a significant ruling on the eve of Justice Lalit’s retirement, the 5-Judge Constitution Bench comprising of U.U. Lalit, CJ., Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi and JB Pardiwala, JJ., in Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India, [W.P.(C)NO.55/2019], with a ratio of 3:2, upheld the validity of 103rd Constitutional Amendment which was instrumental in bringing 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections in education and employment. While Justices Maheshwari, Trivedi and Pardiwala were part of the majority, Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhat gave their dissenting opinions.

Validity of amended Employees’ Pension Scheme

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, CJ and Aniruddha Bose* and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., in EPFO v. Sunil Kumar B., [C.A. No.-008143-008144 / 2022], upheld the legality of certain amendments and modifications to the Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995 (1995 Scheme) but read down certain provisions of the Scheme.

Can GPU Charities involved in trade claim tax exemption? [Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act, 1961]

Interpreting the proviso to Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act) introduced by amendment w.e.f. 01.04.2009, the bench of UU Lalit, CJ and S. Ravindra Bhat* and PS Narasimha, JJ., in CIT v. Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1461, held that generally, an assessee advancing general public utility (GPU) cannot engage itself in any trade, commerce or business, or provide service in relation thereto for any consideration (“cess, or fee, or any other consideration”).

Profit-oriented Educational Institutions not entitled to tax emption under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act, 1961

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, CJI and S. Ravindra Bhat* and PS Narasimha, JJ., in New Noble Educational Society v. Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1458, held that the charitable institution, society or trust etc., to ‘solely’ engage itself in education or educational activities, and not engage in any activity of profit, means that such institutions cannot have objects which are unrelated to education. Where the objective of the institution appears to be profit-oriented, such institutions would not be entitled to approval under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

POCSO| “Touch”, “physical contact” can’t be restricted to “skin to skin contact”; “sexual intent” is the key | Reversal of Bombay HC’s “dangerous precedent”

In an important ruling on POCSO Act, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Bela Trivedi* and S. Ravindra Bhat**, JJ., in Attorney General v. Satish, (2022) 5 SCC 545, set aside the Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) judgment that had acquitted the accused under Section 8 of the POCSO Act, 2012 on the ground that no direct physical contact i.e. skin to skin with sexual intent without penetration would not amount to ‘sexual assault’.

Triple Talaq is not fundamental to Islam

In the landmark case of Shayara Bano v. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1, the Constitution bench of 5 judges namely Khehar, CJ., and Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman, UU Lalit and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ., held triple talaq to be violative of Article 14 and pronounced it to be unconstitutional. Nariman, J, writing down the majority judgment for himself and Lalit, J noted that given the fact that Triple Talaq is instant and irrevocable, it is obvious that any attempt at reconciliation between the husband and wife by two arbiters from their families, which is essential to save the marital tie, cannot ever take place. After going through the Hanafi jurisprudence, the Court noticed that very jurisprudence castigates Triple Talaq as being sinful. The Court said that Triple Talaq is a form of Talaq which is itself considered to be something innovative, namely, that it is not in the Sunna, being an irregular or heretical form of Talaq, it was held that: “The fundamental nature of the Islamic religion, as seen through an Indian Sunni Muslim’s eye, will not change without this practice.”

Bhima- Koregaon Riots Case | House Arrest under Section 167 CrPC

The bench of UU Lalit and KM Joseph*, JJ., in Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency, 2021SCC OnLine SC 382, dismissed the bail plea of activist Gautam Navlakha arrested in relation to the Bhima Koregoanriotscase. Furthermore in a significant decision, the Bench held that it is open for Courts to order house arrest under Section 167 CrPC in appropriate cases. This order assumed even more importance when understood in the backdrop of the issue of overcrowded prisons and high cost for their maintenance. Indicating the criteria for house arrest, the Court highlighted factors like age, health condition and the antecedents of the accused, the nature of the crime, the need for other forms of custody, the ability to enforce the terms of the house arrest, etc.

Journalist Sidhique Kappan gets bail after 23 months in prison

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, CJ and S. Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha, JJ., in Sidhique Kappan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, [Crl.A.No.-001534-001534/2022], granted bail to Journalist Sidhique Kappan after considering the length of custody undergone by him ever since he was taken in custody on 06-10-2020.

Right to cross-examination cannot be denied as a punishment for failure to deposit interim compensation under Section 143A NI Act

In Noor Mohammed v. Khurram Pasha, (2022) 9 SCC 23, where an offender under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (NI Act) was denied the right to cross-examine a witness upon failure to deposit the interim compensation under Section 143A of NI Act, the bench of UU Lalit*, S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., held that any such order foreclosing the right would not be within the powers conferred upon the court and would, as a matter of fact, go well beyond the permissible exercise of power.

Life imprisonment in terms of Sections 53 and 45 of the Penal Code, 1860

In Union of India v. V. Sriharan,(2016) 7 SCC 1, the constitution bench comprising of H.L. Dattu, CJ and FM Ibrahim Kalifulla*, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Abhay Manohar Sapre* and Uday U Lalit*, JJ., held that life imprisonment in terms of Secs 53 and 45 of the Penal Code, 1860 means imprisonment for the rest of life of convict. The Court held that a special category sentence, in substitution of death sentence, that is, sentence barring remission under CrPC for specified term beyond 14 years, is valid.

No universal rule to fill vacancies on basis of the law which existed on the date when they arose; 1983’s YV Rangaiah decision overruled

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha*, JJ., in State of H.P. v. Raj Kumar, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 680, has overruled the decision in Y.V. Rangaiah v. J. Sreenivasa Rao, (1983) 3 SCC 284 wherein it was held that, “the vacancies which occurred prior to the amended rules would be governed by the old rules and not by the amended rules”. The Court held that the same does not reflect the correct proposition of law governing services under the Union and the States under part XIV of the Constitution as there is no rule of universal application that vacancies must be necessarily filled on the basis of the law which existed on the date when they arose.

Importance of mirror orders in interjurisdictional child custody matters

The bench of UU Lalit, Indu Malhotra* and Hemant Gupta, JJ, in Smriti Madan Kansagra v. Perry Kansagra, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 887, explained the concept of a mirror order, and said,

“The mirror order is passed to ensure that the courts of the country where the child is being shifted are aware of the arrangements which were made in the country where he had ordinarily been residing. Such an order would also safeguard the interest of the parent who is losing custody, so that the rights of visitation and temporary custody are not impaired.”

The said explanation came in a 2:1 verdict, where Indu Malhotra, J, writing the majority judgment for herself and UU Lalit, J, transferred the custody of an 11-year-old child to his father, an Indian-origin business tycoon living in Kenya, from his mother with whom he has been living since birth.

Remedy under the RERA Act or Consumer Protection Act for a homebuyer seeking to sue the builder?

The bench of UU Lalit and Vineet Saran, JJ., in Imperia Structures v. Anil Patni, (2020) 10 SCC 783, held that the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA Act) does not bar the initiation of proceedings by allottees against the builders under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Courts cannot adopt a rigid or formalistic approach while interpreting Section 167(2) CrPC

Interpreting Section 167(2) CrPC, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, MM Shantanagoudar and Vineet Sarah, JJ., in Ravindran v. Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, 2020 2 SCC 485, said that the Courts cannot adopt a rigid or formalistic approach whilst considering any issue that touches upon the rights contained in Article 21.

Summary Courts Martial is an exception and reasons to convene must be specified by Commanding Officer

The bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ., and U.U. Lalit, J, in Union of India v. Vishav Priya Singh, (2016) 8 SCC 641, while deciding the question as to whether a Summary Court Martial (SCM) can be convened, constituted and completed by the Commanding Officer (CO) of a Unit to which the accused did not belong, held that SCM is an exception, and it is imperative that a case must be made out for immediacy of action.

Can a policy framed under Article 161 for grant of remission override the requirements under Section 433-A CrPC?

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, MM Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran in Pyare Lal v. State of Haryana, (2020) 8 SCC 680, referred the question- “Can a policy framed under Article 161 for grant of remission override the requirements under Section 433-A CrPC?” to a larger bench and framed the following issue:

“Whether in exercise of power conferred under Article 161 of the Constitution a policy can be framed, whereunder certain norms or postulates are laid down, on the satisfaction of which the benefit of remission can thereafter be granted by the Executive without placing facts or material with respect to any of the cases before the Governor and whether such exercise can override the requirements under Section 433-A of the Code.”

Guidelines for appointment of amicus curiae where there is possibility of life sentence or death sentence

Noticing that where death sentence could be one of the alternative punishments, the courts must be completely vigilant and see that full opportunity at every stage is afforded to the accused, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Indu Malhotra and Krishna Murari, JJ., in Anokhilal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 (20) SCC 196, laid down the norms to ensure the same.

Statements made by a former Supreme Court Judge against Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Dismissing the petition filed by former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju against the resolutions passed by Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha condemning the statements made by him in Facebook posts where he termed Mahatma Gandhi a British Agent and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose an agent of Japanese fascism, the 3-judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and R. Banumathi and U.U. Lalit, JJ., in Justice (Retd.) Markandey Katju v. The Lok Sabha, (2017) 2 SCC 384, held that for the free functioning of Houses of Parliament or Legislatures of State, the representatives of people must be free to discuss and debate any issues or questions concerning general public interest.

“Members need to be free of all constraints in the matter of what they say in Parliament if they are to effectively represent their constituencies in its deliberations. Sub-article (2) of Article 105 puts negatively what sub- article (1) states affirmatively. Both sub-articles must be read together to determine their content. By reason of the first part of sub-article (2) no Member is answerable in a court of law or any similar tribunal for what he has said in Parliament.”

Law Student Sexual Assault case | Entitlement to a copy of statement recorded under Section 164, CrPC

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Vineet Saran and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., in Miss ‘A’ v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2020 (10) SCC 505, held that no person is entitled to a copy of statement recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 till the appropriate orders are passed by the court after the charge-sheet is filed.

“The right to receive a copy of such statement will arise only after cognizance is taken and at the stage contemplated by Sections 207 and 208 of the Code and not before.”

Testamentary disposition of agricultural land to a non-agriculturist

The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit*, Indu Malhotra and AS Bopanna, JJ., in Vinodchandra Sakarlal Kapadia v. State of Gujarat, (2020) 18 SCC 144, held that an agriculturist cannot part with his agricultural land to a non-agriculturist though a ‘Will’ as per Sections 43 and 63 of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948 (the Tenancy Act). Section 43 lays down the restrictions on transfer of land sold or purchased under the Tenancy Act and Section 63 bars the transfer of agricultural lands to non-agriculturists. The Court said, “if it is held that the testamentary disposition would not get covered by the provisions of Section 43, a gullible person can be made to execute a testament in favour of a person who may not fulfil the requirements and be eligible to be a transferee in accordance with law. This may not only render the natural heirs of the tenant without any support or sustenance but may also have serious impact on agricultural operations.”

Video conferencing can be used for conducting proceedings in second motion of mutual consent divorce

Holding that the minimum period of six months stipulated under Section 13-B(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for a motion for passing decree of divorce on the basis of mutual consent is not mandatory but directory, the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ., in Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur, (2017) 8 SCC 746, said that it will be open to the Court to exercise its discretion in the facts and circumstances of each case where there is no possibility of parties resuming cohabitation and there are chances of alternative rehabilitation. The Court also said that in conducting such proceedings the Court can also use the medium of video conferencing and permit genuine representation of the parties through close relations such as parents or siblings where the parties are unable to appear in person for any just and valid reason as may satisfy the Court, to advance the interest of justice.

‘Bogus Donations’ made to Trust

Noting the donations being made to the Trust to be ‘bogus donations’ Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit and Ajay Rastogi, JJ., in CIT v. Batanagar Education & Research Trust,(2021) 9 SCC 439, cancelled the registration of the Trust under Section 12-AA and 80-G of the Income Tax Act, 1963. Present appeal challenged the decision of Calcutta High Court setting aside the order passed by Commissioner of Income Tax (Exemption) cancelling the registration of respondent Trust under Section 12-AA of the Income Tax Act, 1961 and another order passed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal dismissing appeals therefrom.

Will a subsequent purchaser who steps into the shoes of an original allottee of a housing project have the same rights as that of the original allottee?

The Bench of UU Lalit, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ., while giving major relief to homebuyers in Laureate Buildwell (P) Ltd. v. Charanjeet Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 479, held that rights of purchasers are the same as that of original allottees. Appellant (builder) was aggrieved by the order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). Respondent (Purchaser) sought a direction against the builder, for a refund of the consideration amount of Rs 1,93,70, 883 received by the latter as consideration for the sale of a flat along with interest from the date different instalments were paid as well as compensation and costs.

Unexplained bank transactions by Judge| Can Full Court order compulsory retirement despite clean chit by Vigilance Committee?

In Rajinder Goel v. High Court of P&H, (2021) 9 SCC 88, where the Governor of Haryana had directed compulsory retirement of an Additional District and Sessions Judge after the Full court of Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the same after finding him guilty of unexplained bank transactions, the bench of UU Lalit* and Ajay Rastogi, JJ., upheld the decision of the Full Court and said, “…there were multiple transactions showing deposits and withdrawals of substantial amounts of money, it cannot be said that the Full Court was not justified in taking the view that it did.”

When timing of crime saved a man from facing gallows or prison for the rest of his life for raping and killing 2.5 -year -old niece.

In a chilling case where a 21-year-old man was sentenced to death under Sections 302 and to life imprisonment under 376-A of IPC for raping and killing his 2.5 years-old niece, the 3-judge bench of Justice UU Lalit*, Indu Malhotra and Krishna Murari, JJ., in Shatrughna Baban Meshram v. State of Maharashtra, (2021) 1 SCC 596, commuted the punishment to life imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC and to that of rigorous imprisonment for 25 years for the offence punishable under Section 376-A IPC. The Court also affirmed the conviction and sentence recorded by the Courts below for the offences punishable under Section 376(1), (2)(f), (i) and (m) of IPC, and under Section 6 of the POCSO Act.

Legacy

When Justice UU Lalit took over as the Chief Justice, the judiciary was burdened with a long list of pending cases, which included many crucial ones like challenge to EWS Reservations, Demonetisation etc.28 However, “where there is a will, there is a way”. Within a short span of 74 days Justice UU Lalit managed to revitalise the judiciary in ways unprecedented, all of which made the legal fraternity happily surprised and raised their optimism levels.

While assuming the Chief Justiceship, Justice Lalit had hoped to put “healthy practices” in place. The same was acknowledged by his colleague Justice BR Gavai while speaking at a felicitation function organised by the Bombay High Bar Association. Justice Lalit was termed as a “ democratic leader whose out of the box thinking is the hallmark of his career”. Justice Gavai was full of praises for the outgoing Chief Justice as he shed light onto how Justice Lalit always consulted his peers and that he convened a full court meeting of all the judges of the Supreme Court within a couple of hours of taking charge and came out with solutions for challenging problems such as pendency of old matters29.

Reforms aside, Justice Lalit’s career trajectory is full of instances of his humility and humanity. It was described that Justice Lalit’s “strength as an advocate were his thoroughness with the case, patience in explaining legal questions and the sober demeanour in presenting the case before the bench”.30

Justice Lalit’s capacity for work is well-known and is known to be thorough with his briefs. “He accepted judgeship with open eyes and willingly and always made it a point to finish the work assigned to him.”31

Justice Lalit has surely left an indelible imprint with his zest to take on the challenges and resolve them. His vision, the focus towards that vision and the steps taken to realise it, makes his 74 -day tenure not only memorable but also historical. Through his words, which were translated into action, Justice Lalit rejuvenated the judiciary, thereby paving the way for his successor to embark upon further reforms.

 

†Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant, EBC Publishing Pvt Ltd.


1. Environmental Conservation and Protection: Role and Contribution of Constitutional Courts, (2021) 2 SCC J-17

2. Justice UU Lalit likely to become CJI, Lokmat Times

3. Justice UU Lalit’s 100 year legacy, NDTV India

4. Justice UU Lalit, Livemint

5. Justice UU Lalit, SC Observer

6. UU Lalit- A Firm Hand of Rule of Law, The Hindu

7. https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/other/aor_list_14062022.pdf

8. https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/seniorAdvocatesDesig/11122021_201328.pdf

9. Chief Justice and Judges, Supreme Court of India

10. UU Lalit- A Firm Hand of Rule of Law, The Hindu

11. A Look at Justice Lalit’s Career, The Wire

12. Centre for PIL v. UoI, Civil Appeal No. 10660 of 2010

13. Who is Justice UU Lalit, India Today

14. Judges’ Archive, SC Observer

15. How CJI gets appointed?, Indian Express

16. CJI Lalit to have a short tenure, Deccan Herald

17. The Road Ahead for CJI Lalit, SC Observer

18. 25 Constitution Benches, SC Observer

19. CJI Lalit sets frenetic pace, The Hindu

20. Live streaming of Constitution Bench Cases, The Hindu

21. Faster Case Disposal, Money Control

22. Record hearing of cases, News18

23. Faster Case Disposal, Money Control

24. https://main.sci.gov.in/statistics

25. Refer fn 22

26. SC disposes over 4000 cases, India Today

27. Justice Lalit recalls early career days, NDTV India

28. Long pending cricial cases, Indian Express

29. Justice Lalit recall early career days, NDTV India

30. Uday Lalit among four new judges to assume charge in Supreme Court, DNA India,

31. UU Lalit- A firm hand of Rule of Law, The Hindu

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The Supreme Court Collegium stated that every individual is entitled to maintain their own dignity and individuality, based on sexual orientation. Senior Advocate Kirpal’s openness about his orientation goes to his credit and rejecting his candidature on this ground would be contrary to the constitutional principles laid down by the Supreme Court.

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