Explained| How in the fight between Justice LC Victoria Gowri’s ‘eligibility’ versus ‘suitability’ to become a judge, ‘eligibility’ won

Supreme Court: In a petition filed by three Madras High Court lawyers opposing the appointment of Advocate LC Victoria Gowri as a judge of the Madras High Court, the division bench of Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai, JJ. refused to entertain the petition challenging the Collegium’s recommendation elevating her to the High Court.

Thus, Advocate Gowri took oath as an additional judge of the Madras High Court on 07-02-2023, and T Raja, C.J (Madras HC) administered the oath of office to her and four others.

The lawyers challenged the collegium recommendation elevating Gowri to the High Court, alleging that she has given hate speeches against Christians and Muslims. They were seeking appropriate interim orders injuncting Gowri from taking the oath, in view of the ‘great threat’ to the independence of the Judiciary. It was claimed that she has shown strong prejudice in public speeches against religious minorities, thus, she should be disqualified from the recommended list, as she will not dispense justice, without fear or ill-will. It was claimed that all relevant materials concerning Gowri were not placed before the Supreme Court or the Madras High Court collegia, before she was recommended for appointment as a High Court judge. Thus, t petitioners requested the collegium to reconsider its recommendation.

Dr. DY Chandrachud, C.J., agreed to grant an urgent hearing of the petition before the appropriate bench. The matter was listed for 10-02-2023. However, during the intervening period, the Union Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju tweeted regarding the appointments of 13 additional judges to High Courts, wherein Gowri’s name was also present. Thus, it was preponed to be heard on 07-02-2023.

The Court said that it cannot presume that the Collegium was not aware of Gowri’s political background. Further, she is only being appointed as an additional Judge, and is not yet confirmed.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna said that “the issue with respect to Gowri’s appointment is not one of eligibility, but of suitability. On eligibility, there could be a challenge, but the Courts should not get into suitability; otherwise, whole process will become haywire”1.

Thus, the Court while dismissing the petition, said that “we are not entertaining and issuing notice in the present writ petitions.”

[Anna Mathew v. Supreme Court of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 113, decided on 07-01-2023]

*Apoorva Goel, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

1. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2023/02/07/sc-dismisses-plea-against-victoria-gowri-as-she-takes-oath-as-madras-hc-judge.html, The Week

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