Tomorrow is CJI TS Thakur’s birthday and it is also the day on which he demits office as the Chief Justice of India. This is in accordance with how the seniority principle of succession works in the Indian judiciary and it has now evolved into a tradition that continues without interruption – which is why Chief Justice TS Thakur demits office today.
During his tenure, CJI TS Thakur had an open, warm and easy going approach. Typically, the relationship between the Chief Justice of India and the members of the Bar is a formal one, punctuated with several layers of behavioral etiquette.
In Nani A.Palkhivala’s column in The Illustrated Weekly of India, Oct 1, 1978, the learned Supreme Court lawyer had written with characteristic humor, “The law may not be an ass, but it is certainly a snail: the operation of our legal system is not merely slow but is susceptible to the most shameless, delaying tactics and resort to the courts has become a costly lottery which takes years in the drawing.”
While addressing a gathering of Supreme Court advocates just days after he took office, CJI TS Thakur had said, “Advocates should not take short cuts by seeking adjournments in cases or on behalf of colleagues.” He also pitched for advocates to take up legal aid cases pro bono frequently – which means he has asked them to represent those who have no means to pay for an advocate to argue their case in court.
Here’s a quick look at what makes CJI TS Thakur’s tenure unique and memorable for members of the Bar:
Always Smiling and Ready to Listen
We have seen leaders, actors, singers, directors and many celebrities take ”selfies” with their fans. It is rare to find a Chief Justice who is willing to do the same with ordinary lawyers who flock to him – but CJI TS Thakur does so, with dignity and simplicity. Always smiling be it in court or in public, CJI TS Thakur is open and ready to listen to the members of the Bar with patience, and more importantly, engages with them even during long-winding arguments.
No Notes, Always Impromptu and Speaks using simple words
It is unusual to see Judges speak without written speeches, which they usually prefer to read from. However, CJI TS Thakur is an exception to this and speaks naturally, that too in a simple manner, which even a layperson can understand. He does not read out speeches from notes. Result? There is a lively and natural energy to what he says. The interaction with the audience is more organic than stilted or peppered with legal terminology.
For instance, at an event when CJI TS Thakur was addressing the audience, a mobile phone of one of the advocates began to ring and he was unable to switch it off within a reasonable time. CJI TS Thakur paused his speech and seeing the advocate’s embarrassment, said with a smile, “This happens to all of us, don’t worry about it. If there were any kids here, they would have known how to switch it off instantly – today’s kids are so tech-savvy that we turn to them for help.”
Expresses candid opinions on sensitive issues
In India, judges tend to maintain ”dignified silence” when it comes to expressing their views on sensitive issues like the collegium-related discussions or religion and God.
At the first Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer Memorial Lecture series in New Delhi, CJI TS Thakur took the audience by surprise with a thought-provoking observation, where he spoke about the criteria for the appointments of Judges and referred to a recent meeting of the collegium, “One of the objections pertaining to 2 of the candidates is they had obtained a chamber and then the allotment was canceled later because it was not valid as per rules. So, the said allottee went to court, challenging the cancellation. An objection raised against the candidate is that he is in litigation – that is the objection!”
This statement by the Chief Justice of India sent some ripples across the legal fraternity, particularly because any information related to the collegium is usually not discussed in public by some one such as the Chief Justice of India.
But this facet of CJI TS Thakur adds to the allure surrounding his persona in and outside courtrooms – that he speaks his mind openly.
Talks about God and religion openly
It is unusual for the Chief Justice of India to talk about God and religion openly. On several occasions, CJI TS Thakur has shared his thoughts on this candidly.
At Justice Rohington Nariman’s book launch in New Delhi, CJI TS Thakur spoke at length about his interest in the decoding the question “What is Truth?”
Sharing his insights on the concept of Truth, CJI TS Thakur said, “In the Mahabharat, Lord Krishna always knew that the war is inevitable and that mediation won’t yield the desired results. Yet he did everything to mediate and prevent war. Until the last moment, Kunti, the mother of Karna, did not reveal the truth. Why did she reveal the truth just before the war? The Mahabharat teaches us that Truth has many aspects and it may have a time-bound criticality in triggering events. Look at how Dronacharya was told a half-truth that Ashwatthama had died. Now examine this carefully – no lie has been told. Ashwathama the elephant had died. However, it is not a full truth because of the intention – the intention was to shock and weaken Dronacharya into believing that his son had died. Now when you examine what happened to understand truth – you need to see what this means for disputes, you have to not just look at what the truth is but there are also half-truths and absolute truth.”
CJI TS Thakur further said, “God is about Oneness. In the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna says that ‘all paths eventually lead to me’ – a teaching which is relevant today. Religion is my personal affair. How do I connect with God, how do I pray to God – it is of nobody’s concern but mine. Your religion is about you and your God – that is all there is. Among Hindus, whether you pray or not, you are a Hindu. No one can do anything with you and no one has a right to interfere.”
As Chief Justice TS Thakur demits office today, his tenure will be remembered fondly by members of the Bar as one of their most positive ‘learning’ experiences at the Bar and beyond the courtroom.
So, let us wish CJI TS Thakur, “Happy birthday, Chief and all the best in 2017!”