“The constitution of India is always considered as a tool of emancipation capable of creating ‘constructive citizenship’”1
-Justice Sonia G. Gokani
On 16-02-2023 Gujarat High Court witnessed history in the making when Justice Sonia Giridhar Gokani took oath as the High Court’s First Woman Chief Justice. However, unfortunately, her tenure as Chief Justice, was only supposed to last for a fortnight, as she retires on 25-02-2023upon attaining the age of 62 years as per the age limit for High Court Judges.
Even though, Justice Gokani’s stint as Chief Justice was short, she has been an integral part of Gujarat’s legal echelons since the time she started her practice in 1986.
*Did you Know? Justice Sonia G. Gokani is the first Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court with such a short tenure (10 days)!2
Early Life and Advocacy3
Justice Sonia G. Gokani was born on 26-02-1961, at Jamnagar, Gujarat. Her qualifications comprise of – B.SC in Microbiology; LL. B [Special] & LL. M [Criminal].
As an advocate Justice Gokani worked with various organizations for the cause of downtrodden women and children and worked towards upholding environmental causes.
She served as part-time Lecturer at Shri K.P Shah Law College, Jamnangar and was later appointed and served as Member, District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum for nearly five years.
Justice Gokani joined Judiciary directly in the cadre of District judges as a Judge, City Civil & Sessions Court, Ahmedabad on 10-07-1995 and presided over on many civil and criminal matters.After establishment of Special Court under the Anti-Terrorist Laws in the State of Gujarat, she worked as a Special Judge for this Court and conducted important matters from 2003 to 2008. Justice Gokani also worked as a Judge, Special Court C.B.I for the cases investigated by CBI.
In March 2008, Justice Gokani was deputed to the High Court of Gujarat as Registrar [Recruitment] for recruitment of Judicial officers up to the cadre of District Judges. She also served as Registrar [IT & Infrastructure] for nearly 18 months. On 17-02-2011 Justice Gokani was elevated as Additional Judge of the High Court of Gujarat and confirmed as Permanent Judge on 28-01-2013.
After the recommendation and subsequent elevation of former Chief Justice Aravind Kumar to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia G. Gokani became the senior most Judge of the Gujarat High Court, which meant that the Collegium led by Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, recommended her name for the position of Gujarat High Court’s Chief Justice.5
In its recommendation dated 09-02-2023, the Collegium stated that, “The appointment of Ms Justice Gokani as Chief Justice will bring a sense of inclusion and facilitate a representation for Judges drawn from the services in the office of Chief Justice.”
*Did you Know? Within 2 days, Justice Sonia Gokani addressed a long pending demand of the ladies of the Bar by starting creche facilities and installing sanitary pad disposal machines and sanitary pad incinerators in the High Court campus!7
The amount of respect and admiration that Justice Sonia Gokani had amassed in all these years, was clearly visible in the Full Court Farewell Ceremony organised on 24-02-2023, i.e., on the eve of her retirement. The ceremony, which was attended by the esteemed Judges of the High Court along with all the members of the Bar, the speakers recalled their fondest memories of having worked with the retiring Chief Justice. The members praised her soft-spoken and hard- working nature and the fact that a Gujarati was appointed as Gujarat High Court’s first lady Chief Justice will be a rare combination to find.
Meanwhile Justice Sonia G. Gokani in her farewell speech, remembered Hansa Mehta- a formidable social reformer and member of the Constituent Assembly, which was instrumental in drafting the Constitution of India. She stated that all the pillars of the democracy, especially Judiciary needs to work for the well- being of the nation. She also stated that there must be commitment on part of all to be guided by the Constitution, the moment we step out of our homes.
She further narrated her experiences of the time when she entered the legal profession. She stated that there were 2-3 women advocates in mofussil town, and as a young female lawyer, acclimatisation was a major task. However, the challenges she faced while establishing herself, shaped her journey.
Justice Gokani, in her farewell speech stated that how her concern for families of jail inmates deepened while working at the Sabarmati Central jail for four years, for they are people who are victims and suffer for no fault of theirs.
Notable Decisions and Observations by Justice Sonia G. Gokani
In the Full Court Farewell Ceremony, the gathered members recalled the landmark decisions given my Justice Sonia Gokani during her judgeship, like the Haren Pandya assassination case Akshardham Terrorist attacks case etc8.
The gathered members praised her humane attitude while deciding cases and recalled that how during the hearing of a custody matter, Justice Gokani ensured the comfort of the child and treated the child in a motherly way.
The members also recalled a recent observation made Justice Gokani during a proceeding revolving around Gujarat Public Trust Act, wherein the appearing advocate addressed the Division Bench of Justice Gokani and Justice Sandeep N. Bhatt as ‘Your Ladyship’. Justice Sonia Gokani observed that9
“Many a times, in the General Clauses Act, we say ‘he’ includes ‘she’; sometimes ‘she’ includes ‘he’ also (…) What used to be the idea of sir and madam, that used to be “sirs” that is right way instead of Mi’lord (…) let it be gender neutral”.
In a light- hearted interaction between the Bench and the advocates, the advocates stated that it will take time for the old habits to change.
Justice Sonia G. Gokani also recalled a discussion in the NJA, vis-a-vis addressing Judges and how addressing them as ‘Your Lordship’ is too feudalistic and that addressing the Judges as ‘sirs’ is the right way of addressing.
Following are some of the significant decisions rendered by Justice Gokani-
Gujarat High Court | Morbi Bridge Collapse Matter | Oreva Group directed to pay compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs10
The Division Bench of Justice Sonia Gokani and Sandeep N. Bhatt JJ., directed Oreva Group which was responsible for maintaining the Morbi bridge which collapsed killing 135 people, to pay interim compensation of ₹10 lakh to kin of each of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
Gujarat High Court | Court goes beyond the relief sought, helps POCSO victim to become self-sufficient.
the Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Kakiben Raval v. State of Gujarat, 2021 SCC OnLine Guj 2030, went beyond the case to help a POCSO victim to continue her further studies from her parental home. Order was issued against a Criminal Misc. Application filed by the desirous victim pleading the Court to allow her to handover the custody of her minor daughter and join her parents. The applicant was called before the Court with her child before passing of the order. Read more
Gujarat High Court | “Truth is the motto and object of every investigation, let no stone be left unturned”; Court reminds CID [Vadodara Custodial Death]
A Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., Sheikh Salim Shekhbabu v. State of Gujarat9, once again made sure that no stone was left unturned to go to the root of the matter stating that,
“Let no stone be left unturned and every possible attempt be made to go to the root of the matter. There must not be any scope of either laxity or soft paddling at any stage of investigation which is not only impermissible, but would also prove to be deleterious for the system.” Read more
Gujarat High Court | Can apology be accepted as defence, justification or calculated strategy to avoid punishment for an act which tantamount to contempt of court?
A Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Suo Motu v. Vijay Arvindbhai Shah, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1274, held that there may not be an actual interference with the course of administration of justice but it is enough if the offending publishing or act is likely or tends in any way to interfere with the administration of law. In the present matter, on perusal of the submissions, High Court stated that the apology as may be tendered by the parties, the alleged contemners shall need to be regarded by the Court, where it is also to regard as to whether the apology tendered is at the first point of time without attempting to justify the actions and creating the defence or is it being used as an escape route. Read more
Gujarat High Court | If marriage is registered under Special Marriage Act, is it necessary for the couple to take recourse of same law to sever ties permanently?
A Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Chavda Twinkle v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1167 while addressing an application with regard to the custody of minor children observed that, it is trite law that till the minor children become 6 years of age, the custody ordinarily shall have to be with mother unless their welfare is an issue with the Court. Read more
Gujarat High Court | “Caste system in the country making it more and more difficult for youth to decide their life partner”
The Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Niteshkumar Mulchandbhai Prajapati v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 897, while addressing a matter for protection of a couple, stated that, “By way of social policing, attempt can also be made by the officer concerned who is investigating the earlier complaint of the petitioner filed against family members of the corpus and to make an attempt to bring an amicable solution between the families”. Read more
Gujarat High Court | Mere apology may be no reason to an act, utterance or publication of contempt which scandalize the majesty of Court
A Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Suo Motu v. Yatin Narendra Oza, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1175, while rejecting the unconditional apology of the Yatin Oza, observed that,
“Entire gamut of facts when dispassionately and objectively viewed, we are unable to accept these words as true words of remorse and contrition and therefore, request to accept apology even if termed as unqualified, cannot be acceded to.” Read more
Gujarat High Court | Refusal to appoint differently- abled violates their right to lead a life with dignity
The Single Bench of Sonia Gokani, J., in Sudhanshu Upendrabhai Chavda v. State of Gujarat11, observed that the refusal to appoint a person with disability for a post for which he has been selected through process of recruitment is a refusal of his right to equality and to lead a life with dignity.
In the instant case, the petitioner was aggrieved by the respondent’s refusal to appoint him on the post of Supervisor Instructor [Class III] although he had been selected for the post after completing the process of recruitment. Read more
Gujarat High Court | POCSO | Lack of legal awareness amongst children, lends them as offenders in serious matters
A Division Bench of Sonia Gokani and N.V. Anjaria, JJ., in Vikramsinh Champaksinh Parmar v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 960, while addressing matter wherein a minor boy had taken away the minor girl and were missing for a significant amount of time, stated that, “…right kind of understanding needs to be given, in the form of legal awareness amongst the children and college students so that society can simultaneously protect very young minor boys, who due to their lack of understanding of law, turn into the offenders in serious matters.” Read more
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this report.
11. Special Civil Application No. 17799 of 2016