Monday, January 30, 2023

Justice Shantanagoudar: Judge with a conscience

The sudden passing away of the sitting Supreme Court judge is a huge loss to the judiciary as he had delivered numerous landmark judgments.

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The sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar, 62, passed away at a private hospital in Gurugram on April 24, 2021 after prolonged illness. He was the ninth seniormost judge of the apex court. The top court suspended judicial business as a mark of respect for Justice Shantanagoudar.

Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana led the condolence meet in the Supreme Court premises. He said: “I was hoping for his speedy and complete recovery and his return to the bench at the earliest. The news of his passing has come as a rude shock. I have lost a valued colleague. In the last four years of my association with him in the Supreme Court, I have benefitted immensely from his amazing legal acumen. We are deeply pained with the untimely death of Justice Shantanagoudar.”

Other judges of the Supreme Court, such as Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, UU Lalit, L Nageswara Rao, DY Chandrachud, S Ravindra Bhat and Hrishikesh Roy also joined the condolence meet.  Attorney General KK Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Senior advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Vikas Singh attended the meeting virtually. The High Courts of Allahabad, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh were closed on April 26 to mourn the death of Justice Shantanagoudar. The subordinate courts of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana were also closed as a mark of respect.

Justice Shantanagoudar was part of several notable verdicts, including a popular dissent in a land acquisition matter, during his four-year period in the Supreme Court. He refused to agree with the majority opinion rendered by Justice Arun Mishra on the bench hearing a land acquisition case. Justice Shantanagoudar reasoned that a contradictory opinion had already been rendered by a co-ordinate bench. Hence, the question should be referred to a larger bench for a final and authoritative decision. The controversy was settled only after then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra referred the case to a Constitution Bench.

He was also part of a nine-judge Constitution Bench which had on February 10 last year held that the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court can refer questions of law to a larger bench while exercising its limited power under review jurisdiction in the Sabarimala temple case.

Justice Shantanagoudar was also part of a bench headed by then CJI Dipak Misra which held that in a child custody matter, the remedy of writ of habeas corpus cannot be used for mere enforcement of the directions given by the foreign court against a person.

Justice Shantanagoudar was also part of a significant judgement passed last year which held that an accused has the right to “default bail” even if the investigation is not completed on time and the prosecutor cannot defeat his indefeasible right by subsequently filing a charge­sheet or additional complaint. Among the other important verdicts passed last year, Justice Shantanagoudar headed a bench that held that if an accused is unrepresented in the court, then the court has to appoint an amicus curiae or seek the appointment of an advocate from legal services committees.

Justice Shantanagoudar was born in 1958 and enrolled as an advocate in 1980. After a brief spell of practice in Dharwad, he joined the chamber of advocate Shivaraj V Patil, who became a Supreme Court judge. Justice Shan­tanagoudar specialised in civil, criminal and constitutional matters.

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Among other offices, Justice Shan­tanagoudar served as State Public Prosecutor of Karnataka from 1999 to 2002. He was appointed permanent judge of the Karnataka High Court in September 2004. He was appointed Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court in 2016 and was elevated to the SC on February 17, 2017. He was scheduled to retire on May 4, 2023.

—By Abhilash Kumar Singh and India Legal News Service

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