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Lawyer Saurabh Kirpal could be India’s first gay HC judge after SC collegium clears his name

Kirpal is 1st advocate from LGBTQ community whose name has been cleared by apex panel for appointments to higher judiciary. Name will now go to Union law ministry for clearance.

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New Delhi: Four years after the Delhi High Court recommended the name of advocate Saurabh Kirpal for appointment as a judge, the Supreme Court collegium has finally approved the proposal. 

According to the collegium resolution uploaded on the official Supreme Court website, the high-powered appointment panel, led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices U.U. Lalit and A.M. Khanwilkar, took the decision on 11 November. 

In the past, the collegium had deferred its decision on Kirpal’s recommendation four times. 

The proposal has now been forwarded to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, which, according to procedure, will have to notify the appointment. If cleared, Kirpal will be the first gay judge to be appointed in any high court of India. 

Apart from this, the collegium has also reiterated names of four lawyers for the Delhi High Court, three for Calcutta, three for Kerala and one for Chhattisgarh. 

A long delay

Kirpal, who has come out as gay, was recommended for elevation in 2017 by the Delhi HC collegium then led by acting chief justice Gita Mittal. 

In March this year, the SC collegium, led by the then CJI S.A. Bobde had written a letter to the Union Law Ministry, giving it four weeks to provide additional information on Kirpal. 

The letter was subsequent to the deliberations that took place between collegium members on 2 March. The present CJI and Justice R.F. Nariman (now retired) were the other members of the collegium then. 

Kirpal’s name was discussed along with 18 proposals that were pending with the collegium for a long time. Some of them, including Kirpal’s, were pending because of more information that was sought by the collegium from the government. 

While the collegium had cleared the other names, it held back Kirpal until it received inputs from the government. 

This was the fourth time his name was deferred ever since he was recommended unanimously by the Delhi HC collegium.

In his letter, CJI Bobde reminded the law ministry that it was supposed to provide the collegium inputs, which the previous collegium had requisitioned.

CJI Bobde wanted more clarity on the government’s objection to Kirpal’s name, which was flagged in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) inputs that were sent to the collegium when his file was forwarded by the government. 


Also read: Recommended twice for elevation, but this lawyer yet to be appointed as judge to Calcutta HC


The government’s reservations

The government has officially not spoken against Kirpal’s sexual orientation, but had expressed reservation over his partner being a foreigner. This was highlighted in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) report, which the government had forwarded to the SC collegium after it received the recommendation on Kirpal from the Delhi High Court in October 2017.

The IB had trawled through Kirpal’s Facebook account and attached his picture with his “foreign” partner. None of the pictures were offensive or objectionable, though, and there was no direct objection to his elevation. However, the IB report had said that the lawyer’s foreign partner could pose a security risk.

This IB report was considered on 1 April 2019 by a collegium then led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Bobde and Ramana.
It had then deferred its decision, for the third time, preferring to seek additional information from the government in the wake of IB inputs on Kirpal.

In response to CJI Bobde’s letter of 2 March, the government once again objected to his partner being a foreigner. It was pointed out that he was employed with the Swiss embassy and that he had also worked with a Switzerland-based non-profit organisation prior to this job.

In an interview to ThePrint last September, Kirpal had said he believed that his sexual orientation is probably the reason why the three-member Supreme Court collegium had deferred its decision on his elevation. It was the first time the advocate had spoken out on the issue.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)


Also read: Justice Akil Kureshi, ignored as SC judge, likely to head to Rajasthan HC as chief justice


 

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