In a profession that is legendary for using verbose, impenetrable language which can be deciphered only by law experts, CJI Misra is known to have written judgments that quote everything from ancient Indian texts to western classical literature.
The Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, who retired on October 2, has had an eventful career. Much like every Chief Justice, CJI Misra’s career was marked by a number of high-profile cases, the decisions to most of which were delivered in a clutch recently.
Unlike many of his predecessors, though, some of the landmark judgments delivered by CJI Misra arguably came at a time when their political relevance was much sharper than at any other time.
Even before CJI Misra took over as the Chief Justice, however, the 64-year old had to his name a number of landmark judgments.
In a profession that is legendary for using verbose, impenetrable language which can be deciphered only by law experts, CJI Misra is known to have written judgments that quote everything from ancient Indian texts to western classical literature. Here’s taking a look at some of those landmark judgments, both during his tenure as the Chief Justice as well as across his career.
Meditation in rape cases involving minors (2015)
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the State of Madhya Pradesh against a rape accused. The judgment went against an earlier, controversial judgment by Madras High Court, in which the court had ordered meditation in a rape case involving a minor victim.
Hearing the appeal, the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant had observed:
“… These are crimes against the body of a woman which is her own temple. These are offences which suffocate the breath of life and sully the reputation. And reputation, needless to emphasise, is the richest jewel one can conceive of in life.”
The Supreme Court had held that it would be a “spectacular error” to adopt “any kind of liberal approach” to cases of sexual assault.
“Or to put it differently, it would be in the realm of a sanctuary of error,” the judgment had stated.
Yakub Memon mercy plea case (2015)
Justice Misra headed the Supreme Court bench that held court past midnight to decide upon the fate of 1993 Bombay serial blasts accused Yakub Memon’s mercy plea.
Writing that the issue has “risen like a phoenix” again, Justice Misra had pronounced the court’s decision at 5 am. The Bench had assembled for an unprecedented pre-dawn hearing at 1 am.
“Stay of death warrant would be travesty of justice. The plea is dismissed,” the Bench had ruled.
Memon was hanged at Nagpur Central Prison a little before 7 am on July 30, 2015.
Justice Misra was back at the court hearing another case at 10:30 am the next morning.
Constitutional validity of criminal defamation (2016)
In a controversial judgment that was laced with remarks provoking arguments and counter-arguments, a two-judge bench upheld the Constitutional validity of Sections 499 to 502 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to criminal defamation.
“Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. The concept of social interest has to be kept in mind when considering reasonableness of a restriction,” the judgment had pronounced, stating that the sections do not muzzle freedom and speech and expression.
The bench had asked the petitioners Subramanian Swamy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal to face trial in their respective cases.
2012 Nirbhaya rape and death case (2017)
In another historic judgment, the apex court bench headed by Justice Misra upheld death penalty of convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya rape and death case.
Justice Misra had termed the incident as a “tsunami of shock”.
“It is manifest that the wanton lust, the servility to absolutely unchained carnal desire and slavery to the loathsome beastility of passion ruled the mindset of the appellants to commit a crime which can summon with immediacy tsunami of shock in the mind of the collective and destroy the civilised marrows of the milieu in entirety,” the bench had said.
“If ever a case called for hanging, this was it,” Justice Misra wrote in a voluminous judgment that ran up to 430 pages.
The National Anthem debate (2017)
A two-judge bench led by CJI Misra had conceded that rules that required national anthem to be played before screening of a movie can be re-looked at.
The Supreme Court had noted that “we don’t have to wear patriotism on our sleeve.”
The apex court’s observations went against an earlier ruling, also pronounced by a bench that CJI Misra was a part of, that stated that citizens are “duty-bound to show respect to the national anthem which is the symbol of the constitutional patriotism.”
“People do not need to stand up at a cinema hall to be perceived as patriotic,” the court had said.
Lifting ban on Padmaavat (2018)
When the Rajasthan and Gujarat state governments issued notifications prohibiting the screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Padmaavat, the Supreme Court stepped in to stay the orders and clear the movie for a nation-wide release.
“The whole problem when exhibition of a film is stopped like this, my constitutional conscience shocks me,” CJI Misra had said.
During the hearing, in what had become trademark for Justice Misra, everything from Marathi literature and Sanskrit epics to DH Lawrence and Jesus Christ made an appearance in Court No. 1, where the proceedings took place.
Striking down Section 377 (2018)
A five-judge Supreme Court bench decriminalised homosexuality, striking down Section 377 of IPC and bringing an end to the 157-year-old colonial-era law.
The ruling was hailed by many as a progressive step towards equality. The desire to place every identity on an equal pedestal was highlighted by CJI Misra in his comment quoting German writer Goethe, “I am what I am, so take me as I am.”
“Denial of self-expression is inviting death… one defines oneself. That is the glorious form of individuality,” CJI Misra had further said.
Aadhaar Verdict (2018)
A Constitution bench of the apex court, led by CJI Misra upheld the validity of Aadhaar but with riders.
The Aadhaar judgment was read out by Justice AK Sikri, to which CJI Misra had concurred.
The verdict essentially upheld the Constitutional validity of Aadhaar but stuck down some of the provisions, including the linking of Aadhaar to bank accounts.
Decriminalisation of adultery (2018)
The Supreme Court unanimously stuck down Section 497 as unconstitutional.
“It’s time to say husband is not the master,” CJI Misra said while reading out the judgment. “Women can’t be asked to think and do according to the will of society,” the Chief Justice continued.
The five-judge bench headed by CJI Misra said that the beauty of the Constitution is that it includes "I, me and you".
Though the judgment divided opinions, it was hailed as another step in a string of vredicts by the apex court to move towards an equal society.
Sabarimala temple case (2018)
In another historic decision, the Supreme Court threw open the doors of the 800-year-old Sabarimala temple in Kerala to women of all ages.
Striking down Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, which restricted the entry of women between the ages of 10-50 inside the temple, the Supreme Court held that exclusion of women of any age group cannot be regarded as essential to the practice of Hindu religion.
“The dualism that persists in religion by glorifying and venerating women as goddesses on one hand and by imposing rigorous sanctions on the other hand in matters of devotion has to be abandoned,” wrote CJI Misra, for himself and for Justice AM Khanwilkar.
“… Expression of devotion cannot be circumscribed by dogmatic notions of biological or physiological factors arising out of rigid socio-cultural attitudes which do not meet the constitutionally prescribed tests,” CJI Misra further went on to say.