Supreme Court | Photo: AP
New Delhi: In a rare move, the Supreme Court decided to hear on Tuesday a plea for restraining lawyer Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri from taking oath as a judge of the Madras High Court, soon after her appointment was notified by the Centre.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud in the forenoon put the plea of three Madras HC lawyers opposing the proposed appointment of Gowri for hearing on February 10 but later on Monday advanced it to February 7 after senior advocate Raju Ramachandran again mentioned the plea, saying the Centre has notified her appointment and seeking urgent intervention.
The petitioner lawyers, Anna Mathew, Sudha Ramalingam and D Nagasaila, in their plea referred to the alleged hate speeches made by Gowri against Muslims and Christians.
The issue was of “eligibility and not the suitability” and vital information was not before the collegium which created the handicap, Ramachandran said and referred to a 1992 judgement in the plea to buttress his case.
The apex court had passed an interim order restraining the appointee from taking the oath and assuming office as a judge of the Gauhati High Court, he said.
The apex court bench, also comprising justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, took note of the fresh mentioning of the case by Ramachandran and said, "Since we have taken cognisance of the development, we can list it tomorrow morning. We can constitute a bench."
"There are certain developments which have taken place, in the sense that the collegium has taken cognisance of what was drawn to our attention, or came to our notice after we formulated our recommendations on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the collegium of High Court of Madras,” the CJI told the senior lawyer.
The plea said, “The petitioners are seeking appropriate interim orders injuncting the 4th Respondent (Gowri) from taking the oath of office as a judge of the High Court, in view of the grave threat to the independence of the judiciary.”
The plea relied on the 2016 NJAC judgement and said it “reiterated that absence of prejudice is the essence of an independent judiciary.”
“She has shown strong prejudice during her public speeches against citizens on the ground of their religious affiliation, which disqualifies her under Art. 217(2)(b) from dispensing justice, without fear or favour, and affection or ill-will,” the plea alleged.
It alleged that Gowri has shown utter disdain towards the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in Articles 14 and 15.
“She is, therefore, ineligible at the very threshold. Her proposed appointment as a judge poses a grave threat to the fair administration of justice and citizens' right to the same under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it claimed.
The plea sought a direction that all the records and the material before the collegium of the Madras High Court and of the apex court relating to the resolution be summoned.
It also sought the setting aside of the recommendation as unconstitutional and void for lack of effective and informed consultation under Article 217 of the Constitution.
Earlier in the day, the top court agreed to hear on February 10 the plea challenging the proposed appointment of Gowri as the judge of the Madras High Court.
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, during the day, announced the fresh appointments on Twitter and extended his best wishes to them. A total of 11 advocates, including lawyer Gowri, and two judicial officers were on Monday appointed as additional judges in the high courts of Allahabad, Karnataka and Madras.
The senior lawyer again mentioned the plea saying that “at 12.12 (pm) this development took place. The appointment has been notified.”
Seeking an urgent hearing, he referred to the earlier judgement and said even at this stage, the court can intervene.
“I have given a copy to the attorney (general) and spoken to the attorney general. Kindly see the judgement which states that relief can still be granted,” the senior lawyer said.
Taking note of the submissions, the CJI agreed to advance the date of the hearing to Tuesday.
The proposal to elevate the woman lawyer, who has been representing the Centre before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, has been mired in controversy after reports emerged about her alleged affiliation to the BJP.
Some bar members of the Madras HC had written to the CJI seeking recall of the recommendation made for appointing Gowri as an additional judge of the high court alleging she made hate speeches against Christians and Muslims.
The plea, which was filed on Monday, said Gowri be prevented from being appointed as a Judge due to her disqualification as she has shown “strong prejudice during her public speeches against citizens on the ground of their religious affiliation”.
It said that her elevation raises a question of whether the fundamental right to access to justice is infringed by the appointment of a judge "with strong prejudices against citizens based on their religious faith".
“The petitioners believe that relevant materials regarding the 4th Respondent's (Gowri) publicly expressed views were not placed before the collegium of the Madras High Court or of this Hon'ble Court, and this has affected the consideration of her eligibility,” it said.
Every citizen has a fundamental right of access to fair, free and impartial justice under the Constitution and this petition is being filed for enforcement of the same, it said.
“In one of her interviews, captioned, ‘More Threat to National Security and Peace Jihad or Christian Missionary - Answers Victoria Gowri? uploaded on February 27, 2018 (now not available for public viewing from YouTube), Ms. Gowri said, ‘Like Islam is green terror, Christianity is white terror',” the plea alleged
“She further stated, ‘Christian groups are more dangerous than Islam groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of love jihad',” it alleged.