What was all the fuss about Victoria Gowri?
The court noted that there have been instances when an additional judge was not made permanent if performance was not satisfactory
Advocate Advocate Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri was sworn in as an additional judge of the Madras High Court after the Supreme Court dismissed petitions against her elevation as a judge. The oath ceremony began while the Supreme Court hearing was still underway.
“We are not entertaining the writ petitions. Reasons will follow,” said a special bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai. At the beginning of the hearing, Justice Khanna said there is a difference between eligibility and suitability. "On eligibility, there could be a challenge. But suitability... The courts should not get into suitability, otherwise the whole process will become haywire," he observed.
The court noted that there have been instances when an additional judge was not made permanent if performance was not satisfactory.
A group of lawyers who are part of the All India Lawyers Union, are protesting outside the court against her appointment. However, several lawyers of the Madurai bar have supported her.
Why is her appointment contentious?
A group of lawyers pointed to her previous association with the BJP and several instances of “hate speech” by her.
In a letter addressed to President Drapaudi Murmu and the Supreme Court collegium, the lawyers have pointed to her being the general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha. She deleted her Twitter profile after the controversy broke out.
The Madras High Court Bar members pointed out in the letter that Gowri’s ‘regressive views’ are completely ‘antithetical’ to constitutional values and “reflect her deep-rooted religious bigotry making her unfit to be appointed as a High Court judge”.
They relied on two interviews given to a YouTube channel Bharat Marg (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xe0nYxEbU), which have since then been made private. The interviews are captioned ‘Cultural genocide by Christian Missionaries in Bharat - Victoria Gowri’ and ‘The More Threat to National Security & Peace? Jihad or Christian Missionary?’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzs03XaxzmM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xe0nYxEbU).
They also highlight an article written by her for the RSS mouthpiece Organiser titled “Aggressive baptising destroying social harmony” published on 1 October, 2012. In the article she has written, “For fifty years, the marginalised Hindus have been fighting the mighty Christian diocese. But now the situation is out of control. The Christian sectarianism and bigotry indulging in organised alluring conversions continuously has shrunk the majority Hindus to minorities”.
In the article, she goes on to add, “Conversions have created adverse socio-economic ramifications with respect to Hindus. The people’s representatives of the electoral process have completely bowed before the wealthy Archbishops singing the choirs of sycophancy to garner minority votes.” She insisted that an Anti-Conversion Act could be the only strong medicine to treat the ailment of conversion in Kanyakumari district.
In the light of these opinions, the advocates have asked in the letter if “any litigant belonging to Muslim or Christian community ever hope to get justice in her Court, if she becomes a Judge”. The letter underscores that the recommendation to appoint Gowri, “a person who makes no bones about her hatred towards the minority communities”, as a judge would also erode public confidence in the independence of the judiciary.
Has the apex court ever quashed HC Judge’s appointment?
Yes, but only once. And it happened in 1992.
In the 1992 case of Kumar Padma Prasad vs Union Of India, after a section of the Gauhati bar objected to the appointment of KN Srivastava, who had allegations of corruption against him. He was disqualified on the on the ground that he never practised as an advocate and never held a judicial office.
The contention was that he did not satisfy the basic eligibility prescribed under Article 217 of the Constitution to be a High Court judge. Srivastava was a secretary level officer in the Law and Judicial Department of the Mizoram Government and in that capacity was a member of certain Tribunals and Commissions.
Taking note of the peculiarity of the case, the Supreme Court stated: “It is for the first time in the post-independent era that this Court is seized of a situation where it has to perform the painful duty of determining the eligibility of a person who has been appointed a Judge of High Court by the President of India and who is awaiting to enter upon his office”.
Though there were allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds against Srivastava, the Supreme Court did not delve into those aspects and decided the matter on the legal issue whether the post held by him can be regarded as a “judicial office” within the meaning of Article 217(2)(a) of the Constitution.
This 1992 precedent was cited to challenge the appointment of Advocate L Victoria Gowri as a judge of the Madras High Court. Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for petitioners who challenged Gowri's appointment on the ground that she has made hate speeches against religious minorities.