Protecting the rights and personal liberty of citizens became a hallmark of Supreme Court judge Justice K M Joseph, who came down hard on hate speeches and delivered a landmark verdict on appointment of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners to maintain the “purity” of elections.
The elevation of Justice Joseph, son of former apex court judge Justice K K Mathew, from the Uttarakhand High Court to the top court in 2018 had run into rough weather and was marred by controversy due to the protracted stand-off between the government and the judiciary.
Joseph, as the chief justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, had struck down the imposition of President’s rule in the state in 2016 after the dismissal of the Congress government then helmed by Harish Rawat.
Justice Joseph will demit office on June 16, after a tenure of over four years and 10 months as a judge of the top court.
He was accorded a warm farewell on Friday since today is his last working day before the apex court closes for summer vacation on May 22.
In a measure of how dear was the cause of personal liberty to him, a bench headed by Justice Joseph had said although the State is tasked to prevent crime and maintain security, personal liberty should not be the collateral and none should suffer incarceration without legal authority.
A Justice Joseph-led bench had also said it is the bounden duty of State to ensure that lives and property of its citizens are protected at all times.
Taking a serious view of hate speeches, an apex court bench headed by him had said these will end the moment politics and religion are separated and politicians stop using religion in politics.
In April this year, a bench headed by Justice Joseph had directed all states and union territories to register cases against those making hate speeches even without any complaint, terming such speeches a “serious offence” capable of affecting the secular fabric of the country.
A path-breaking verdict delivered by a five-judge constitution bench headed by him was the one which ruled that appointment of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners will be made by the President on the recommendation of a committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI to maintain the “purity of election”.
Another constitution bench headed by Justice Joseph recently upheld the validity of amendment acts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka which allowed bull-taming sport ‘Jallikattu’, bullock-cart races and buffalo racing sport ‘Kambala’, saying they are “valid legislations”.
He was also part of a bench which had in November 2019 given a clean chit to the Modi government in the purchase of 36 fully loaded Rafale fighter jets from French company Dassault Aviation, rejecting the plea for registration of an FIR by the CBI for alleged commission of cognisable offence in the deal.
The top court had rejected the pleas seeking a review of the December 14, 2018 verdict in which it had said there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of 36 fighter jets.
In November last year, a bench headed by Justice Joseph had allowed activist Gautam Navlakha, who was then lodged in Navi Mumbai’s Taloja prison in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, to be placed under house arrest owing to his deteriorating health.
While hearing a plea seeking formation of a renaming commission for restoring the original names of ancient, cultural and religious places in the country renamed by “barbaric invaders”, Justice Joseph had said he is a Christian but still very fond of Hinduism.
Speaking at the valedictory function of the Constitution Day celebrations at the Supreme Court on November 26 last year, he had said it is the legitimate right and duty of every citizen of the country to prevent the Constitution from being abused.
Born on June 17, 1958, he had enrolled as an advocate in January 1982 in Delhi.
He was appointed as a permanent judge of the Kerala High Court on October 14, 2004 and was later transferred to the Uttarakhand High Court and assumed charge on July 31, 2014 as its Chief Justice.
Justice Joseph was elevated as a judge of the apex court on August 7, 2018.
His name was recommended for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court by the collegium headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on January 10, 2018.
In April 2018, the government had returned the recommendation for reconsideration on the ground that he lacked seniority.
The collegium, in May 2018, in-principle reiterated the decision to recommend Justice Joseph’s name for elevation to the apex court. The recommendation was sent to the government in July 2018.