Justice Ashish J. Desai was born on 05-07-1962, in the city of Vadodara, into a family deeply rooted in the world of law. Prior to his elevation as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, he served as Acting Chief Judge of High Court of Gujarat.
Early Life and Education
Justice A.J. Desai’s upbringing was infused with the essence of law, owing to his familial background. His father, late Justice Jitendra P. Desai, was a distinguished Judge of the High Court of Gujarat from 1983 to 1989.1
He commenced his academic journey at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in 1982. Displaying an unyielding commitment to his legal aspirations, he then obtained his Law Degree from Sir L.A. Shah Law College, Ahmedabad, in 1985 and later enrolled as an Advocate with the Bar Council of Gujarat on 27-11-1985.2
Justice Ashish Jitendra Desai’s legal career began under the tutelage of Advocate M.C. Bhatt and. Daksha M. Bhatt.3 His initial practice took root at the City Civil and Sessions Court in Ahmedabad, where he honed his skills as a lawyer. He transitioned to the High Court of Gujarat in 1991, marking a significant milestone in his career.4
Justice Desai was appointed as the Assistant Government Pleader in 1994 and he also assumed the position of Additional Public Prosecutor in 1995. He was appointed as the Central Government Standing Counsel from 2006 to 2009. He served on the panel of esteemed organizations such as the Gujarat Electricity Board and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, further solidifying his reputation as a legal authority with diverse expertise.5
✤ Did You Know? Justice Desai created history in the National Lok Adalat organized on 13-05-2023 wherein a record break of 3.90 lakhs cases were disposed off under his guidance.6
Contribution to Public Service
In his capacity as the Executive Chairman/Patron-in-Chief of the Gujarat State Legal Services Authority, Justice Desai spearheaded a multitude of legal service initiatives that brought significant positive changes to the state’s legal landscape. Among these pioneering endeavors was the establishment of 24-hour legal aid clinics in strategic locations like Daffnala and Shahibaug, Ahmedabad. Furthermore, Justice Desai’s visionary leadership led to the establishment of the Office of Legal Aid Defense Counsel in all 32 districts of Gujarat. This monumental achievement marked Gujarat as the 3rd State in India to accomplish such a comprehensive feat.7
Justice Desai also held the post of Patron-in-Chief of Gujarat State Judicial Academy and also headed various Committees constituted for the purpose of resolving administrative issues and was also the Chairman, I.T. Committee, where he has brought in a number of radical changes in the working of the judiciary at the District and State level.8
Career as a Judge
In recognition of his exceptional legal career, Justice Ashish J. Desai was elevated as an Additional Judge of the High Court of Gujarat on 21-11-20119 and was confirmed as a Permanent Judge on 06-09-2013,10 securing his place among the esteemed judiciary of the state.
On 26-03-2023, Justice Desai was appointed as the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Gujarat.11
Upon elevation of Justice S.V. Bhatti to the Supreme Court, the Collegium recommended the name of Justice A.J. Desai. The Ministry of Law and Justice accepted the recommendation and hence Justice Desai was appointed as the 38th Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala.12
In Vijay Suklal More v. State of Gujarat, 2023 SCC OnLine Guj 1166, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, seeking a writ of mandamus to direct the State of Gujarat and Surat Municipal Corporation(‘respondents’) to rehabilitate and provide alternative accommodation to the slum dwellers, the Division Bench of A.J. Desai* and Biren Vaishnav, J., directed the respondents to rehabilitate the petitioners-Slum Dwellers under the Regulations for Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of the Slums, 2010 (‘the Scheme of 2010’).
In Vasantbhai Nathabhai Santoki v. Deputy Collector, 2018 SCC OnLine Guj 2338, a single judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai, J. denied a writ petition under Articles 14, 16, 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India on being devoid of merits and held that road which is being used since decades cannot be denied access to even if there is alternate route available.
In Prabhatji Sukhaji Dhabi v. State of Gujarat,13 a case where a murder convict was not released despite his case being eligible for remission of sentence and was detained on the grounds that he had jumped furlough once and had not surrendered to jail authorities, a single judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai, J., while observing “legitimate freedom cannot be equated with money” directed the State Government to pay a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to a murder criminal as the same was the only relief that could be granted against illegal incarceration.
“The lethargy shown by the State and its Officer has kept a person behind the bars for a period of around six months. These six months of illegal incarceration of the petitioner by State is, therefore, required to be dealt with. …The relief, now Court can grant for this illegal incarceration is only the compensation,”
In Niraj Devnarayan Shukla v. State of Gujarat, 2015 SCC OnLine Guj 6269, a 3-judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* A.G. Uraizee and K.J. Thaker, JJ., while relying on Supreme Court judgment in K.D. Panduranga v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 3 SCC 721, laid down the procedure which is required to be considered by the High Court while dealing with a conviction appeal wherein convict/advocate is/are not available.
While deciding a reference case where the accused whose successive bail application is pending before the High Court, files an application for releasing him on bail for a limited period, a 3-judge bench comprising of Akil Kureshi, J.B. Pardiwala and A.J. Desai,* JJ., in Abhijit Prabhakar Konduskar v. State of Gujarat, 2017 SCC OnLine Guj 2725, held that the criteria for considering an application for temporary bail and application for interim bail would be different as the application for interim bail is to be decided on merits after examining the evidence. The Court further held that:
“(i) If the application is filed by an accused for interim bail in a pending successive bail application, the same shall be listed before the Judge, who is in-charge of successive bail application.
(ii) If temporary bail application is filed during the pendency of a successive bail application, the same shall be placed before an appropriate Court, as per the roster.”
In an intra-court appeal challenging selling the properties in auction by the respondent-bank without following the procedure prescribed under the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Rules. 1965, a Division bench comprising of V.M. Sahai and A.J. Desai,* JJ., in Kalol Taluka Sales and Purchase Union Ltd. v. State of Gujarat, 2012 SCC OnLine Guj 6288, quashed and set aside the auction on palpable breach of Rule 119 of the Rules committed by the Bank.
“When the judgment debtor’s property is being auctioned, the intention of the statute is that the Officer who has been appointed as Recovery Officer, follow the procedure prescribed, in its stricto sensu manner. If the property gets the highest price which is under auction, the judgment debtor would be relieved from the maximum liability, which he owes to the judgment creditor. If any of the conditions is found to be breached by the Recovery Officer provided under Rule 119 of the said Rules, it is not merely an irregularity but the said sale becomes invalid.”
In Rathva Deepsingh Vithalbhai v. State of Gujarat, 2012 SCC OnLine Guj 6430, a case related to invitation of applications for opening of fair price shop at village Timbi for the residents of village Timbi as well as village Jivanpura, a Division bench of V.M. Sahai and A.J. Desai,* JJ., held that “the word ‘local resident’ used in Clause 5 and 7.3 of the Policy of the Government is required to be read in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case and in the present case when the two villages are clubbed together for allotment of fair price shop, resident of any of these two villages is to be held as a local resident of the village.”
In Binaben v. State of Gujarat, 2021 SCC OnLine Guj 658, an appeal preferred under Section 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, (CrPC), a Division bench comprising of A.J. Desai* and A.S. Supehia, JJ., held that even if the tower location of the mobile phones of the appellants was around the area of commission of crime but the Court cannot only rely upon such evidence, the accused cannot be held guilty in absence of any complete chain of circumstances.
*Judge who has penned the judgment.
13. SPECIAL CRIMINAL APPLICATION (DIRECTION) NO.2203 of 2017, order dated 18-07-2017.