Justice Uday Umesh Lalit Appointed As 49th CJI Of India
It is a very rare scene that none other than a very senior and eminent advocate of Supreme Court – Dushyant Dave with an impeccable reputation who also is the former President of Supreme Court Bar Association being virtually in emotive tears on farewell ceremony of CJI NV Ramana who retired on August 26, 2022 and was appointed as 48th CJI on April 24, 2021. Justice Uday Umesh Lalit will assume charge on August 27, 2022 after incumbent CJI NV Ramana retires. Justice Uday Umesh Lalit would demit office on November 8 after holding charge as the CJI for nearly three months.
Who does not know Hon’ble Justice Uday Umesh Lalit? He is a Judge par excellence who just needs no introduction or description from anyone. Still let me give a brief introduction of Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit for the benefit of those who generally don’t do much reading on legal issues and legal personalities.
To start with, he is a very eminent and senior Judge of the Supreme Court and is the 6th senior advocate to be directly elevated to the Supreme Court. He is also the Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority. It deserves mentioning that prior to his elevation, Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit practised in the Apex Court as a senior counsel.
Furthermore, it must be mentioned here that Hon’ble Justice Lalit enrolled as an advocate in June 1983. Prior to getting enrolled, he did his law from Government Law College in Mumbai. He practiced in the High Court of Mumbai from 1983 to 1985 with elegance and brilliance. He also had the unique privilege to work with former Attorney General of India late Soli J Sorabjee from 1986 to 1992.
As we see, it was in 2004 that Supreme Court designated him as a senior advocate. He specialized in criminal law. He is also known all over for conducting trials as CBI’s Special Public Prosecutor in all 2G matters most immaculately under the orders of the Apex Court. It must be noted that he also had served as a member of the Supreme Court’s Legal Services Committee for two terms.
What’s more, it must also be mentioned here that Hon’ble Justice Lalit was elevated as a Judge of the Apex Court directly from the Bar on August 13th, 2014. It also must be noted that it was in May 2021 that Hon’ble Justice Lalit was appointed as the Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) which is certainly doing a yeoman’s job. He has delivered many landmark judgments also like that of Shayara Bano v Union of India and others in Writ Petition (C) No. 118 of 2016 that was pronounced finally on 23.8.2017 by a five Judge Bench which negated the validity of triple talaq and Hon’ble Justice Lalit held so very rightly that triple talaq violated the fundamental right guaranteed in Article 14 of the Constitution.
Be it noted, Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit who is the second senior Judge of the Supreme Court at present while addressing the Judges, Lawyers and Legal Services Provider at the Maharashtra State Level Conference on the topic titled “Early Access To Justice At Pre-Arrest, Arrest and Remand Stage” on March 26, 2022 very rightly underscored the need to provide quality services while providing free legal aid. What all Hon’ble Justice Lalit pointed out has to be thought over by our law makers in depth. It must be mentioned here that the one-day programme was organised at Maharashtra Judicial Academy at Uttan under the aegis of NALSA, Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority and State Legal Services Authority, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
Needless to say, it is good to learn that Hon’ble Justice Lalit did not mince any words to clearly specify while expressing serious concern at the extremely low percentage of cases which land up with the Legal Services Authority that, “Free legal aid does not mean poor legal aid, free legal aid must mean quality service.” While referring to statistics, Hon’ble Justice Lalit specified that the Legal Services Authority handle just 1% of the litigation. To augment the quality of services of legal aid in our country, Hon’ble Justice Lalit made no bones about what is inevitable is that it was important to induct talented and committed persons. It is a no-brainer that only talented and committed persons can ensure that free legal aid mean quality service and not inferior service that is just not up to the mark!
It is worth noting that Hon’ble Justice Lalit also very rightly pointed out that certain High Courts have a system that advocates conferred with senior designation should handle a specified number of pro bono cases. He also had a point when he said that a person must have the benefit of qualified legal assistance at pre-arrest, arrest and remand stage. In the own sagacious words of learned Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit who spoke his mind on this key issue of providing quality legal aid and said elegantly that, “At every possible stage the man must have the benefit of qualified legal assistance. We don’t provide the legal assistance, we at NALSA, SLSA, DLSA, TLSA, what do we do? We are just facilitators. We are not the ones who is going to appear for that man and present his case, we simply facilitate that mechanics, we have an apparatus and that’s why one has to see this NALSA as a beautiful machinery which has been produced by the Parliament. There is no other scheme which is given in the hands of Judiciary, which is supposed to be in the interest of the society. The Judges right from top that is NALSA upto State Legal Services Authority, District Legal Services Authority or even Taluk Legal Services Committee, the entire apparatus is managed by the Judges. But management is the only part which is in our hands, execution of that, i.e. giving legal counsel, is in the hands of lawyer or is in the hands of the team of the lawyers and this is precisely why my predecessors who addressed you were stressing upon the fact that quality legal assistance, pro-bono services, senior advocates, getting inducted in the programme that will provide you good quality assistance.”
Adding more to it, Hon’ble Justice Lalit then also confided about his invaluable treasured experiences which he gained after decades of experience in Bar that, “It is true that there are methods and methods in which we can induct, we can draft that talent. Like for instance, High Courts of Punjab and Haryana and Delhi before they designate a person as a senior counsel, they look into the profile and they say, how many matters have you done pro bono? Some of the High Courts go to the extent of getting an undertaking that after your designation you shall do at least 10 pro-bono matters every year. Now, these are modalities, and methodology that a particular High Court, may adopt, may not adopt, that is not the point, point is legal aid, free legal aid does not mean poor legal aid, free legal aid must mean quality service. If I go through this door and approach the legal aid, I must be assured that good quality assistance will be given to me, rather than if I go through the other door, where I may have to sell ornaments of my wife in order to support the litigation to be sponsored. Why do I say that? Since the basic topic is arrest, pre-arrest, remand which is pertaining to criminal law, of all the matters which are in court, only 1% of that land up with Legal Aid Services Clinics. Is that proportion correct? If we say that 70% of our people are below poverty line, then going by the same logic, the same proportion perhaps 70% of the litigants must be those, who are below poverty line, rough and ready estimate then why is it only 1% of them land up in the legal aid services clinics.” Absolutely right! There can be just no denying it!
It must be mentioned here that Justice Lalit will be the second CJI who was directly elevated to the Apex Court Bench from the Bar. It may be recalled that Justice SM Sikri who was the first lawyer to be elevated directly to the top court bench in March 1971 became the 13th CJI in January 1971 was the first lawyer to be elevated directly to the Apex Court Bench in March 1964. It also must be mentioned here that before his elevation as a Judge, he was appointed a Special Public Prosecutor for the CBI to conduct trial in the 2G spectrum case. Justice Lalit was appointed as a Supreme Court Judge in August 2014. I am sure Justice Lalit will perform brilliantly as CJI.
One sincerely hopes that Justice Lalit will ensure that the historic recommendations of 230th Law Commission of India recommending for creation of more High Court Benches in all States are implemented most rigorously so that the 10 crore people of West UP are not compelled to travel about 750 to 800 km on an average all the way to Allahabad to seek justice as the 30 districts of West UP are attached not even with Lucknow which is about 200 km before Allahabad but have to travel up to Allahabad due to which a whole day and a night gets wasted in travelling only which is nothing but stupidity of the highest order! UP tops in state list of maximum pending cases and still has just one Bench! This is just not done!
It must be asked: When Maharashtra can have 3 High Court Benches with 4th being approved at Kolhapur for just 6 districts then why can’t UP have even two Benches even though Maharashtra tops in justice index ranking and has far lesser pending cases as compared to UP and even West UP? Justice Lalit hails from Maharashtra and next senior most Justice Dr DY Chandrachud also from Maharashtra. Let’s hope some justice is done with UP also impartially by ensuring that more High Court Benches are created in needy regions like West UP, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and so also in Odisha, Gujarat and Bihar where there is not even a single High Court Bench and Rajasthan where there is just one Bench!
It is really good to learn that Justice Lalit had very strongly underlined the pressing need to set up a Constitution Bench of five Judges or more that would sit throughout the year which is a very laudable suggestion and must definitely be implemented forthwith! I am fully sure that Justice Lalit will certainly ensure that he will be remembered for his quality of performance which reigns supreme and not quantity and even though he may have a short tenure but it is still enough to create a huge difference by approving more High Court Benches and taking all such noteworthy steps which will indubitably ensure that there is a huge qualitative difference in the functioning of judiciary which alone can ensure that people’s faith in the pillar of judiciary gets strongly strengthened deep down!