Monday, March 27, 2023

Justice Deepak Gupta: A Speaking & Listening Judge

In the first virtual farewell for an apex court judge, which was aired live on TV, the legal fraternity spoke of Justice Deepak Gupta’s humaneness, fairness and the encouragement he gave to young members of the Bar. By Srishti Ojha

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For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, a virtual farewell was given to a sitting judge and aired live on a TV channel. Justice Deepak Gupta, who was a judge of the Court for three years, retired on May 6, 2020. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, his farewell was done via video-conference and aired live by two national TV channels—APN News and Nepal 1—and telecast to more than 107 countries. It was also livestreamed on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The farewell was given by the Confederation of Indian Bar in association with APN News. The Supreme Court Bar Association also gave him a virtual farewell on May 6.

Justice Gupta’s farewell function was attended via video-conference by some important names of the legal fraternity. Senior advocate PH Parekh, who is also president of the Confederation of Indian Bar, said that normally the Confederation organised a farewell function for Supreme Court judges at the Indian Habitat Centre but due to Covid-19, they were prevented from doing so. He said that Justice Gupta was very competent as a lawyer and popular at the Bar in the Himachal Pradesh High Court. He said that Justice Gupta was well-versed with all branches of law. Normally, a judge who disposed of a large number of cases became unpopular with the Bar as it was felt he may not be able to do justice. But Justice Gupta was popular as he was both a speaking and a listening judge; the Bar likes speaking judges. “The final judgement on a judge comes from the Bar on the day of his retirement. And the judgement of the Supreme Court Bar is that Justice Deepak Gupta was an excellent judge. On behalf of the Confederation of Indian Bar, I wish Justice Gupta and his family all the best,” Parekh said.

Rajshri Rai, Managing Director at India Legal, stated that there were some judges whose judgments weren’t limited to books and impacted the entire society and there were very few judges whose judgments would be remembered in future as well. Justice Deepak Gupta, she said, was one of them.

Senior advocate Pradeep Rai said that this was the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that the farewell of a sitting judge was being aired live on a TV channel. “I am glad to be part of this function. We have heard fascinating stories about Justice Gupta and he has always encouraged young members of the Bar. Justice Gupta is the uncrowned leader of the Bar—a rare combination of a brilliant scholar, a photographer and a great nature lover. When he joined the Supreme Court, everyone was happy and this has remained so throughout his tenure. He has maintained his integrity as a judge and always encouraged constitutional values. He will remain a source of inspiration to all of us and we hope he continues to guide us all.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that Justice Deepak Gupta represented one of the most humane faces of the judiciary and had immensely helped in the evolution of jurisprudence. He had moved mountains in the Supreme Court and transformed the way people looked at it. In his very limited but distinguished period as a justice of the Supreme Court, he had remained a torchbearer in the evolution of a liberal, democratic constituency and ensured that the unique civilisation ethos and values of our nation were not diluted, said Mehta. “He provided an impetus to the evolution of jurisprudence in evolving fields like women’s rights and environment. He was a visionary judge with a deep understanding of justice and the role of law in a constitutional democracy.

“Bidding farewell to Justice Gupta will be incomplete without mentioning his pillar of strength and inspiration, Poonam Gupta, who herself is an accomplished painter.”

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee too joined in the farewell and said that an independent judiciary was the bedrock of any democratic country. Justice Gupta had the great gift of giving justice in cooperation with members of the Bar and was known for his integrity and high-mindedness, he said.

“It was a pleasure to appear before Justice Gupta. His retirement will be a loss to the judicial fraternity. I am sure he will continue to do good work. He can make an excellent arbitrator as he was a good judge.”

Justice Gupta was known for his candid and strong views. He has spoken against the misuse of the sedition law, the importance of the right to dissent and how majoritarianism is the antithesis of democracy. He was the first chief justice of the Tripura High Court in 2013 and in 2016, became chief justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court. He was elevated as judge to the Supreme Court in February 2017.

Justice Gupta was part of many important judgments. One of them was Independent Thought vs Union of India where the bench held that a husband can be charged with rape for sex with a minor wife. In Rojer Mathew vs South Indian Bank Ltd, Justice Gupta disagreed with the majority view and held that although non-essential functions may be delegated, even within such delegation, Parliament had to retain a certain amount of control over the executive. In MC Mehta vs Union of India, he held that the right to live a quality life as guaranteed under Article 21 also includes the right to live in a smoke-free environment. Recently, a bench led by Justice Gupta sentenced three persons to three months’ imprisonment, holding them guilty of contempt for making scandalous and scurrilous allegations against Supreme Court judges.

Referring to his virtual farewell, Justice Deepak Gupta said that while he may not deserve all the praises, he accepted them with humility. He said that the role of a judge was to be true to the Constitution and to his oath, follow the laws and dispense justice. He said he had been greatly influenced by Justice PD Desai, who left an impact not only on him but the entire judicial system of Himachal Pradesh.

He said that to have confidence in the judicial system, clients must feel they have been heard and he had always felt that if a hearing is given to a lawyer, it’s a much easier task. He accepted that he had always had a soft corner for the junior members of the Bar because two of his chief justices too encouraged them and that helped him be fair. “I’ve been an unapologetic activist judge, but I have limited my activism mainly to social justice and environment. Talking about social justice, the Court has never laid down policies and we have never outstepped the scope of the judiciary.

“In field of environment, we have always done what the law requires us to do, according to environment laws and EIA notification, non-compliance of which are obviously violation of laws. Environment is a fast-growing field and some legislation-making has been done in this field by the Court. I strongly feel that if the case of TN Godavarman wasn’t pending, forests would’ve been diluted to a very large extent.” He said he didn’t know why the members of the Bar had fallen in love with him because he had been a tough judge in some ways. “What I have followed all my life is that a judge must be fair with members of the Bar who want a decent hearing. A judge who can get over his prejudices, give dates and treats all members alike, which I have always done…has always helped me. No judge can perform his duties without the coo­peration of the Bar and I am thankful to all Bar members and the Confederation of Indian Bar.”

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