Chief Justice of India N V Ramana Thursday recommended to the government the name of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court, as his successor.
Elevated directly to the Supreme Court from the Bar in August 2014 — only the sixth lawyer to be so honoured —Justice Lalit will take over as the 49th CJI after the incumbent retires on August 26. He has a short term in office and will retire on November 8, 2022.
An official communication said CJI Ramana “personally handed over a copy of his letter of recommendation dated 03.08.2022” to Justice Lalit Thursday “morning”.
It also “recalled” that the CJI’s Secretariat received a communication dated August 3 from the office of the Union Minister of Law and Justice requesting him to recommend the name of his successor “yesterday (03.08.2022) at 2130 hrs”.
As per convention, the incumbent CJI recommends the name of his successor only upon receiving the communication from the Law Ministry urging him/her to do so.
Enrolling as an Advocate in June 1983, Justice Lalit has been a key part of the country’s jurisprudential journey in the last couple of decades, initially as a lawyer and then as judge. His father U R Lalit was an Additional Judge of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court from 1974-76.
He has also been part of several important rulings in the SC. Justice Lalit headed the bench that last month sentenced Vijay Mallya, who was found guilty of contempt of court in 2017, to four months’ imprisonment and fine of Rs 2,000. He also headed the bench that convicted the fugitive businessman for contempt in May 2017.
A bench presided by him underscored the importance of mitigating circumstances while dealing with death penalty convicts. In a Madhya Pradesh case involving a man sentenced to death for the gangrape of a child, the bench gave credence to the role of a “mitigation investigator” in going into the background of the convict. The court also initiated a suo motu case to streamline the process of consideration of mitigating circumstances in such matters.
It said that “every circumstance which has the potential of being a mitigating circumstance, while considering whether death sentence be imposed or not, must necessarily be considered by the court”.
He was also part of the five-judge bench which by a 3:2 majority judgment, in August 2017, “set aside” the centuries-old practice of instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat in which Muslim men divorce their wives by uttering talaq three times in quick succession.
Justice Lalit also headed the bench which in July 2020 upheld the rights of the erstwhile royals of Travancore in the administration of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
In November 2021, an SC bench headed by him quashed the two judgments of the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court saying the most important ingredient for constituting an offence of sexual assault under Section 7 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is the “sexual intent”, and not the “skin-to-skin” contact with the child”.
The two HC judgments had set off a furore for concluding that it will not amount to an offence of sexual assault under Section 7 of POCSO if there is “no direct physical contact, i.e. skin to skin” between the accused and the victim.
In 2019, he was made part of the bench to hear the Ayodhya title suit issue but recused himself from the hearing after it was pointed out that he had appeared in a connected matter in 1997 as a lawyer for former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.
Justice Lalit has also been quite pro-active in his role as Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). On a visit to Mumbai earlier this year, he made it a point to visit a school run by Prerana, an NGO working with women and children, in the red light areas and engage with some of the women forced by circumstances into the trade.
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Hailing from Maharashtra, Justice Lalit started his practice in the Bombay High Court in December 1985 and then moved to Delhi January, 1986. Till 1992, he worked with former Attorney General late Soli J Sorabjee and was designated as Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court in April 2004.
As counsel, he was appointed Amicus Curiae in several matters and was appointed Special Public Prosecutor for CBI by the Supreme Court in the 2G scam related cases.
He also appeared in several high-profile cases including the black buck case against actor Salman Khan, the road rage case against cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and a corruption case on behalf of former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.