Justice Kurian Joseph, one of the seniormost judges of the Supreme Court of India, whose affable and compassionate nature earned him great popularity, retired on 29 November 2018.
Sworn in as a Supreme Court judge on March 8, 2013, he came to be listed as one of the Top 10 judges in India by Law Consult. Having authored a total of approximately 1034 judgements, there is little surprise that Justice Joseph was counted amongst the most respected judges in the SC.
As his tenure comes to an end, here is a look at five of Justice Kurian Joseph’s landmark judgements.
1. In August 2017, a bench comprising of five judges including Justice Kurian Joseph “set aside” the practice of triple talaq and held it invalid. A part of the majority vote supporting this abolishment, Justice Joseph said, “Triple talaq is against the tenets of the Holy Quran and hence violates Shariat… It is extremely difficult to agree with the CJI that triple talaq is integral to the practice of Islam. What is bad in Quran cannot be part of Shariah.”
2. The National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) was proposed as a body responsible for appointing judges and issuing their transfer to the higher judiciary.
However, in 2016, a bench consisting Justices Kurian Joseph, J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, and AK Goel struck it down saying that the judiciary cannot risk getting caught in a “web of indebtedness.”
Justice Joseph was in support of the majority but also accepted that the collegium system also needs to be improved.
“There is no healthy system in practice. No doubt, the fault is not wholly of the Collegium. The active silence of the Executive in not preventing such unworthy appointments was actually one of the major problems,” he stated, adding that “Therefore, the Collegium system needs to be improved requiring a ‘glasnost’ and a ‘perestroika,’ and hence the case needs to be heard further in this regard.”
3. Earlier this year, a bench comprising of five judges, including Justice Joseph ruled that the Nagraj case (relating to the reservation for scheduled castes & scheduled tribes in promotions) need not be referred to a larger bench for review.
The 2006 judgement in the ‘M Nagraj & others Vs Union of India & Others’ case ruled that when it comes to promotions, it is not mandatory for the state to make reservations for SC/ST castes.
It had also added that it needs to gather quantifiable data proving the backwardness of the class as well as an inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment.
Reviewing this judgement, justice Nariman (from the bench) said, “The whole object of reservation is to see that backward classes of citizens move forward so that they may march hand in hand with other citizens of India on an equal basis. This will not be possible if only the creamy layer within that class bag all the coveted jobs in the public sector and perpetuate themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were. This being the case, it is clear that when a Court applies the creamy layer principle to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, it does not in any manner tinker with the Presidential List under Articles 341 or 342 of the Constitution of India.”
4. Right before his retirement, the justice also made a landmark statement about death penalties. He observed that it was time to review the death penalty as a punishment and pay special focus to its practice and purpose.
“It is a matter of anguishing concern as to how public discourse on crimes have an impact on the trial, conviction and sentence in a case.
The court’s duty to be constitutionally correct even when its view is counter-majoritarian is also a factor…” he wrote, adding that ” Without the assistance of a psychological/psychiatric assessment and evaluation it would not be proper to hold that there is no possibility or probability of reform.”
His stand on capital punishment has been heavily debated, but one cannot deny that future judges who will hold esteemed positions in the supreme court will use his statements and observations as an example to review the death penalty.
5. Last year, a Supreme Court bench made a historic change in its proceedings by making all collegium decisions transparent and available online. “Decision on uploading of Collegium’s resolutions with reasons, on each candidate for elevation as Judge of High Court, Chief Justice of High Court or as a Judge of Supreme Court or transfer on the Supreme Court’s Official Website for ensuring transparency of Collegium System,” the resolution stated.
You can read the details of this judgement here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)