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Above: The couple, Vivek and Archana Puri, who have been elevated to the Punjab and Haryana High Court (above) are both Punjab Superior Judicial Service Officers/Photo: wikimedia

In an interesting case in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, a husband and wife are on the verge of creating history for being the first couple to get elevated as judges on the same day

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

Elevation of six judicial officers of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to the bench of the High Court was supposed to be a routine news item. Their names had been recommended by the collegium of the High Court headed by the chief justice, and in due process, the promotion of six officers was also recommended by the Supreme Court collegium.

But what stood out in these recommendations was that among the six officers was a husband-wife duo who may have created history by being the first couple to get elevated to the High Court on the same day. There had been several cases of close relatives serving as judges at the same time but one has not heard of a couple taking oath at the same time and serving in the same High Court.

The couple—Vivek Puri and Archana Puri—are both Punjab Superior Judicial Service Officers. While Vivek is posted as district and sessions judge at Mohali in Punjab, Archana is a presiding officer at State Transport Appellate Tribunal (Punjab) and Food Safety Appellate Tribunal (Punjab).

Old timers and those who had remained closely associated with the judiciary over generations do not recall any such instance in the past. Some vaguely remember couples as judges but not posted in the same High Court and certainly not taking oath together.

The two go a long way back when both were selected to the Punjab Civil Services (Judicial) in February 1991.

Obviously, they were batchmates in the academy and remained posted in the same place till two similar posts were available in the same town or city.

They were both promoted as additional sessions judges in 2001 and district and sessions judges a year later—again on the same day and in the same order. They, of course, remained district and sessions judges in different districts.

Asked if they discussed cases being heard by each other, Vivek said it was natural but each one took independent decisions and there was no question of any interference in each other’s work.

Interestingly, both belong to judicial families. Not only was Vivek’s father and grandfather associated with legal services, his son and daughter are also practising lawyers. Similarly, Archana’s father and grandfather as well as several relatives are associated with the judiciary.

Senior advocate Manmohan Sarin, who is a second generation lawyer practising in Punjab and Haryana High Court, did not recall any instance of a husband and wife serving as judges in the High Court. He had moved to the city way back in 1955 when his father decided to shift from Shimla to practise at the then Punjab High Court.

A former advocate general of Punjab as well as Haryana, Sarin has been closely associated with the High Court, which was renamed Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1966 following the reorganisation of states.

He said there have been several instances of relatives being judges of High Courts but never a husband and wife together. However, he recalled that a divorced couple had served as judges at one point of time. The wife was elder to her husband and retired several years ago. Her former husband retired about five years ago.

Another senior lawyer, who didn’t want to be named, said he did not expect any conflict of interest with a married couple serving as High Court judges at the same time. He said both would be equally senior if they are taking oath on the same day.

However, as the husband’s name preceds that of his wife in this case as a consequence of merit in the judicial entrance examination, he would be considered senior if any issue crops up relating to it. He opined that there was a rare chance of both constituting a division bench but it was possible that they could be part of a larger bench of the High Court.

A former High Court judge, who also did not want to be named, said that as the couple had known each other for about 29 years and were posted in the same courts for several years, they would have adjusted to each other’s functioning. They might be discussing cases at home just as other judges discuss with their brother judges in an informal way, but both would be expected to exercise their own wisdom to come to any conclusion.

He also said there was little scope of any conflict of interest. The fact that the couple has till now not had any such instance is a testimony to their regard for judicial propriety.

There have been instances of fathers and sons becoming judges but none at the same time. Justice DY Chandrachud of the SC is the son of former Chief Justice of India YV Chandrachud (in fact, the son has reversed some judgments given by the father), former SC judge Justice AK Sikri is the son of former Chief Justice of India SM Sikri and SC judge Justice KM Joseph is the son of former SC judge KK Mathew.

However, while they served as judges at different periods, they did not face a situation where a husband and wife would be together in the same High Court. And unlike other higher judiciary judges who address each other as brother judges, the Puris will have to find some other nomenclature for each other as High Court judges.

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