Justice Lalit: A tough act to follow

You can define him as a common man’s judge, emotional and with apathy for the losing side while adjudicating a case, but never compromising with settled law and thereby always upholding the law of the land

Ilin SaraswatUpdated: Monday, December 05, 2022, 11:02 PM IST
Former CJI Uday Lalit | File

The shining legacy left behind by Chief Justice of India (Rtd) Uday Umesh Lalit during his brief term of 74 days has set an exemplary benchmark of maximum productivity, the performance measure of which may prove hard to achieve.

He is one of those CJIs who demitted office with a straight spine, decency and integrity after a gracious 39 years in the legal arena.

It was falsely alleged that Justice Lalit represented Home Minister Amit Shah in a case, but it was inconsequential; the lead counsel in the Amit Shah case, Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani, was unavailable and (then Advocate) U U Lalit was asked to appear in his place before the Bench, in the hearing. In reality he was representing one of the co-accused in a connected case with the main Amit Shah matter.

Such impartial and humble judges are rare. He was always very practical about law and personally, I consider him to be one of the best criminal lawyer in India since the last few decades. It may sound selfishly melancholic of my sadness due to his elevation as a Judge of the Supreme Court as it ended his career as a brilliant lawyer. I had this wild pipe dream to appear against him or with him, some day in a court.

Leave aside my selfish wish and I find that in Justice U U Lalit, the nation had one of the best judges of recent times who illustrated before us how the Supreme Court could work in tandem with the Bar and specially the young lawyers. His revolutionary style of unexpected listing sensitive political matters, some lying dormant for years, setting up of multiple — a record six — Constitutional Benches in relevant matters after many years, earning the CJI Lalit lots of accolades in the corridors of the Supreme Court.

You can define him as a common man's judge, emotional and with empathy for the losing side while adjudicating a case, but never compromising with settled law and thereby always upholding the law of the land.

In the words of Justice U U Lalit in a speech at the Supreme Court, also attended by me, “Whatever we do, we do it for the entire society and whatever we have done, the acts of omission, commission or contribution will naturally be assessed by your peers, the members of the bar, (and) everyone. In order to equip oneself with the inputs for the next occasion, so as when these challenges get thrown up in the future, we must find ourselves to be on the right side.”

The process of Justice U U Lalit's elevation as a Justice of Supreme Court was initiated during the UPA term and culminated in April 2014. He was appreciated by every politician and political parties despite their different ideologies.

He, as an advocate, advocate-on-record of the Supreme Court and later Senior Advocate and SC Judge, has given us young lawyers a sense of hope and inspiration.

When he started his practice in the Supreme Court as a young Advocate, Uday Lalit was not attached to any senior or any chamber. I thus relate to him when he said that he had been through almost every level that an advocate can think of, and by wandering solo in the corridors of Supreme Court to later becoming the Chief Justice of India.

His dissenting (as a minority judgment) view in the recent EWS Judgment (as CJI) has explained his vision for minorities, backward classes and even economic backwards, with respect to Constitutional norms.

His judgment in the triple talaq matter was path-breaking when he along with other majority views held the practice of triple talaq as completely violative of the Constitution.

In another landmark judgment related to POCSO, delivered by the bench headed by Justice U U Lalit had ruled that touching sexual parts of a child's body or any act involving physical contact with a child with sexual intent amounts to “sexual assault,” mentioned under section 7 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012, and as the most important ingredient being the “sexual intent” and not skin-to-skin contact.

After becoming CJI, Justice Lalit heard and granted bail to activist Teesta Setalwad and to Kerala's journalist Siddique Kappan and strictly observed that everyone had a right to free speech and expression.

In the same matter of Siddique Kappan, the Bench headed by CJI Lalit also asked strict questions of the Uttar Pradesh Government that how can seeking of justice for the raped/killed Hathras victim was a crime in the eyes of the Government?

He put up the long pending challenges to demonetisation, the CAA matter and the Electoral Bonds before the Benches.

The reforms for changes introduced in the listing and numbering of matters or commencing live streaming of hearings of Constitutional Benches at the Supreme Court is outstanding.

As my idol, I can relate to him in the dilemmas he faced during his initial years in the Supreme Court as a young SC advocate, as I have also gone through those insecure confusions and uncertainties.

Justice Lalit once said that a person whether an advocate or judge, needs to assess that how much he has contributed so far as the Bar and its development is concerned and upto what extent his presence leaves an imprint on the person at the other end, whether opposing or supporting you.

The roar of applause at his farewell bears a testimony to the out going Chief Justice of India.

This was Justice Uday Lalit for you.

Ilin Saraswat is an advocate practising at the Supreme Court of India

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