When he takes over as the 50th Chief Justice of India (CJI) next month, Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud would straightaway enter the record books as this would be the first instance of a father-son duo to have reached the position of CJI.
His father, Y V Chandrachud became CJI in 1978 and retired in 1985, serving the longest tenure of over seven years at the post till date. His son will have tenure of little over two years, which is the longest in the recent past. If this reminds anyone of the idiom, “like father, like son”, the likeness actually ends here. The junior Chandrachud has already overturned two of his father’s judgments related to adultery and the right to privacy.
People who know him well say three Cs – compassion, courage and conscientiousness – define the man. According to lawyers at the Mumbai bar who have seen him from close quarters, he is also among the most erudite among the country’s serving judges. “His judgments speak to history and seek to redress wrongs and injustices that have persisted in our polity. He gives a voice to the most powerless so that they could rise to become equal citizens of this country,” says senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal, who appeared in the celebrated case that led to decriminalising gay sex.
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Justice Chandrachud, who was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on May 13, 2016, has authored a number of notable judgments on the Constitution, human rights, gender justice, criminal and commercial laws. Being the part of a nine-judge Bench that delivered the landmark judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) vs Union of India (Aadhar case), he, in his lead opinion, held that the right to privacy is “a constitutionally protected right.” He also went on the say that dignity cannot exist without privacy as both are inalienable values integral to life, liberty and freedom, which the Constitution has recognised.
He has decriminalised adultery, upheld the right of women short service officers in Army and Navy to be considered for permanent commission and stood by a woman’s right to marry a partner of her choice.
In the most recent judgment on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, he upheld the right to free and safe abortions for both married and unmarried women until 24 weeks of pregnancy. He was also a part of the Constitution Benches, which decriminalised consensual homosexuality and upheld the right of women of menstrual age to enter the Sabarimala temple. He was one of the judges which decided the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid case.
“His judgements — whether in personal liberties or economic liberties — reveal a depth and thoughtfulness which bode well for his relatively long term as CJI. His foresight and leadership on technology as the chair of the e-courts committee will hopefully usher in a new era of a tech- enabled, efficient, inclusive court,” says Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas managing partner Cyril Shroff, who has known Justice Chandrachud for three decades.
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Born on November 11 1959, Justice Chandrachud’s mother Prabha was a classical musician. He graduated with an honours in economic from St Stephen’s College, New Delhi and then obtained a law degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, followed by a Master of Laws degree and a Doctorate in Juridical Sciences from the Harvard Law School.
He practised both in the Supreme Court of India and the Bombay High Court and also served as Additional Solicitor General of India until his appointment as the judge of the Bombay High Court in March 2000. He was also appointed as the CJ of the Allahabad High Court before his elevation to the SC on March 13, 2016. Justice Chandrachud was designated as a senior advocate by the Bombay High Court in June 1998.
“Justice Chandrachud is a natural leader at the bench. His equanimity, his polite yet firm demeanour, his erudition and his passion to dispense justice are creitable. His tenure will keenly watched, both in India and abroad,” says SC lawyer Sunil Fernandes.
The CJI-designate is currently the executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority. He is also a visiting Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Mumbai and Oklahoma University School of Law, USA.
Justice Chandrachud has a wide range of interests. He is an avid nature lover and a hiking enthusiast. He is early riser, spiritual and philosophical. His both sons Abhinav and Chintan are lawyers. Abhinav, the elder son practises in the Bombay High Court and Chintan is a Barrister at Brick Court Chambers, London.
He has on various occasions gone much beyond the narrow confines of law, saying justice can’t always be measured through implemntation of legal norms, and wins and losses in the court hall, Delivering the Justice YV Chandrachud memorial lecture in August this year, he lamented how a “Karva Chauth” advertisement featuring a same-sex couple had to be withdrawn last year despite the Supreme Court decriminalising homsexuality in 2018. According to Justice Chandrachud, “justice done can quickly be undone” if people do not continue the right discourse to ascertain the interests of the marginalised groups.
The Indian judicial system will be in safe hands, indeed.