New Delhi: A name that certainly didn’t get lost in the action-laden week at the Supreme Court is that of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. Backed by a strong judicial legacy and with just over 28 months at the country’s highest court, he has set himself apart, speaking his mind and taking a progressive stand on pertinent issues.
Not known to mince his words, 58-year-old Chandrachud has charted his own way among the apex court’s 25 sitting judges. In his short stint, he has been mainly part of a bench presided by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and other judges, but this never stopped him from expressing himself—be it in agreement with others or as a minority view.
A proponent of free speech and equality in the courtroom, he demonstrates the same in his judgements and his contribution to matters of constitutional law, human rights, gender equality has come to become invaluable. He is known for his liberal stand on sensitive issues and is not afraid to exercise judicial independence.
His ability to express his thoughts in a straightforward yet refined manner and author judgements free of complex legalese have endeared him to many social media users, who frequently share his views on critical issues like privacy, Section 377 and adultery.
According to senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, in a country with a great deal of pressure to conform, he is not afraid to be seen as a liberal and does not believe in the “stiff upper lip" school of judges.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it," said Hegde. That explains his approach to judging, but he is firm when he comes to a conclusion, says Hegde, who has appeared before Chandrachud in court several times.
Given his non-conformist views, Chandrachud has become the new voice of dissent in the Supreme Court after Justice J. Chelameswar retired. In one historical instance, he overruled a judgement of his father late Justice Y.V. Chandrachud who had held during the Emergency that the right to liberty could be suspended at such times. He did not shy away from calling his father’s judgement “flawed". Once again, he did not hesitate to be the sole voice of dissent against Aadhaar, and has beautifully explained why he believes it should be held unconstitutional.
During the Aadhaar hearings as well, Chandrachud posed critical and insightful questions on privacy, data collection, authentication and biometrics to the government.
“The last few months have been the finest in Justice Chandrachud’s judicial work. He has consistently held the Constitution in the highest regard. His exceptional dissent in Aadhaar has paved way for a challenge in the future. In the Bhima Koregaon issue too, he has recognized the power of dissent as a safety valve of democracy. I hope this is only the beginning of him being a vanguard to our Constitution. At times such as these where democracy is under attack, we need more of such judges," said lawyer and human rights activist, Nikita Agarwal.
It would not be a leap to say Chandrachud has been instrumental in shaping India’s privacy jurisprudence. The privacy judgement he authored, detailing the importance of dignity, individual autonomy and personal liberty, will serve as precedent for future cases. The first of such kind was the decriminalization of Section 377, partially based on the principles of sexual choice and autonomy he laid down in the August privacy judgement which termed sexual orientation as an essential attribute to privacy.
With the credits rolling in, Justice Chandrachud sets a fit example of the magnitude of change one can effect in a short span; if we are fortunate enough, there will be more such strong judicial voices in the times to come.