India dispatch: new CJI Chandrachud represents hope of a more liberal judiciary
© President of India
India dispatch: new CJI Chandrachud represents hope of a more liberal judiciary

Indian law students are reporting for JURIST on law-related developments in and affecting India. This dispatch is from Nakul Rai Khurana, a law student at Jindal Global Law School. 

In New Delhi Wednesday, President of India Draupadi Murmu swore-in the Honorable Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud to become the 50th Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’). This follows former CJI U.U. Lalit’s written letter sent to the President in October recommending Justice Chandrachud as his successor.

Justice Chandrachud, at the age of 62, is the youngest person appointed in this role in the past 10 years. It is also anticipated that he will serve one of the longest tenures yet, lasting until November 10th of 2024.

Something worth noting about Justice Chandrachud and his historic appointment is that his father also served in the highest position in the Indian Judiciary. From February 2nd 1978 to July 11th 1985, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud served as the 16th Chief Justice of India. His CJI tenure of 7 years is the longest in Indian judiciary history, carving a defined path for his son to follow.

The appointment is considered a positive sign towards transparency and a more progressive judiciary, especially at a turbulent time for the Indian Judiciary due to an ongoing debate regarding the procedure for the appointment of judges. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s repertoire is marked to assure citizens of a trustworthy leader at the helm of an important institution. He has sound reasoning and a passion for justice. His prudent jurisprudence includes upholding the rights of unmarried women to seek abortion up to 24 weeks, decriminalizing consensual homosexuality, and recognizing the Right to Privacy as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution, among other landmark judgments.

Prominent members of the Bar Council of India, like the Attorney General R. Venkatramani, have opined on how some of the most important reform that is to be expected of the newly sworn-in CJI includes incorporating structural changes within the judicial institution. These structural changes should incorporate diversity, pay more attention to the needs of marginalized communities, and reduce the trust deficit between the citizens and their judiciary. This will enable justice to be administered within a sound system of governance, and provide greater comfort in approaching the judiciary.

I believe that it is important for a leader to first undertake accountability for the institution he will preside over. Only then may he introduce and instill change. In a recent interview at his residence, Justice Chandrachud identified some of the foremost tasks while in office, which include the filling of vacancies in the lower and higher courts in India, addressing the opaqueness of the appointment system, and adapting the judges to a new realm of social media. He aims to protect the judicial institution from attacks regarding its legitimacy, while continuing his legacy of liberal justice. His history of affording people the right to dissent and listening keenly to those who are forced to be silent are some of the attributes associated with his intellectual acumen as a scholar-judge. In 2018, in Joseph Shine v. Union of India, he remarked on how the judicial interpretation of the Constitution “must challenge hegemonic structures of power and secure the values of dignity and equality for its citizens”. The reason for a positive response to his appointment is clear from his inclinations towards compassionate justice and his regard for individual rights and freedoms.

Any wave of liberal judicial policies is often encumbered by traditional conservative structures which are largely represented by the State. I believe Justice Chandrachud’s appointment to be an optimistic step in the future of the Indian judiciary since he has been at the forefront of envisaging civil liberties and freedoms at the heart of our democratic set-up. His convictions display courage which, with time, will be largely representative of the Indian Judiciary’s position of courageous justice.