NEW DELHI: A group of Supreme Court judges has decided to lodge a protest with Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Monday on the ‘seniority’ Justice K M Joseph will enjoy in the SC in the context of the order of oath-taking which will make him the juniormost of three new judges to be sworn in on Tuesday.
The protest comes despite the apex judiciary succeeding in getting the Centre to accept the collegium’s reiteration of its recommendation that Justice Joseph, who was Uttarakhand chief justice, be appointed as a Supreme Court judge.
The group of judges has decided to meet the CJI to request him to set right the order of oath-taking where Justice Indira Banerjee will take oath first followed by Justices Vineet Saran and Joseph. This will mean Justice Banerjee will be the seniormost, leaving Justice Joseph the juniormost among the three.
The group believes Justice Joseph should take oath first as his name was recommended months ahead of the other two. The SC collegium had recommended Justice Joseph’s name along with senior advocate Indu Malhotra on January 10. While the Centre accepted the recommendation for Malhotra, it returned Justice Joseph’s name on April 30 for reconsideration on the grounds that he lacked requisite seniority.
At that time, Justice Joseph’s name figured at 42 on the all-India judges’ seniority list.After Justice Malhotra took oath as an SC judge, the collegium on May 10 in-principle decided to reiterate Justice Joseph’s name.
Justice Joseph has become an ego issue for govt : Judges
Justice K M Joseph’s name was sent to the government along with the names of Justices Banerjee and Saran on July 16. The Centre accepted the recommendation but played a “trick” by specifying the order of taking oath so as to make Justice Joseph the juniormost of the three even though his name was recommended eight months before the other two, sources told TOI.
The group of judges believes that Justice Joseph’s name has become an “ego issue” with the BJP-led NDA government. Though the Centre had cited lack of seniority, it was widely discussed that the Centre’s move was vengeful as Justice Joseph as Uttarakhand HC CJ had quashed imposition of President’s rule in the state in April 2016 leading to restoration of the Congress-led Harish Rawat government.
The judges feel the Centre has sought to relegate Justice Joseph to the third slot in oath taking as it could not stop his appointment as a judge of the apex court. They feel that since none of the three new judges who will take oath on Tuesday will go on to become CJI, there was no reason to relegate Justice Joseph to the juniormost position except to settle a score with the judiciary for its insistence on Justice Joseph’s elevation.
If more than one judge takes oath on a single day, then traditionally the President (read the government) decides the order in which they take oath. Justice Dipak Misra became CJI because he took oath before Justice J Chelameswar on October 10, 2011. While Justice Misra was appointed as an HC judge one and a half years before Justice Chelameswar, the latter became HC CJ prior to Justice Misra. The department of justice counts seniority from the day a person is appointed as an HC judge and not from the day a person becomes CJ of an HC.
Justice Joseph became an HC judge on October 14, 2004, HC CJ on July 31, 2014, and will retire on June 16, 2023.