In a first, an openly-gay senior advocate, Saurabh Kirpal, has been recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium to be considered for the appointment as a judge at the Delhi High Court.
Kirpal was part of the team of lawyers that represented Sunil Mehra and Navtej Singh Johar, who were among the petitioners in the landmark case in which the apex court decriminalised homosexuality.
He’s the son of Bhupinder Nath Kirpal, who served as the Chief Justice of India in 2002. He studied law at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and has been practising for over two decades.
The Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation comes nearly three years after it first considered Kirpal’s candidature in 2018, after the Delhi High Court collegium headed by Justice Gita Mittal had recommended Kirpal to be appointed as a judge in October 2017. The SC collegium then deferred its decision on Kirpal’s recommendation on three other occasions — in January 2019, April 2019 and in August last year.
The delay in Kirpal’s recommendation has garnered criticism in legal circles, with many speculating that it is due to his sexual orientation. The government also repeatedly objected his elevation claiming conflict of interest as his partner is European and works with the Swiss Embassy.
“The fact that my partner of 20 years is a person of foreign origin is a security risk is such a specious reason that it leaves one to believe that it is not the whole truth. That is why I believe my sexuality is the reason why my candidature has not been considered for elevation as a judge,” Kirpal had said in an interview in April.
The government also stated that Kirpal’s partner had previously worked with the non-profit International Committee of Red Cross, which is headquartered in Switzerland.
Kirpal was designated senior advocate unanimously by all 31 judges of the Delhi High Court in March 2021.
He is also the editor and writer for the book Sex and the Supreme Court: How the Law is Upholding the Dignity of the Indian Citizen which contains a collection of writings by noted luminaries like Justice M.B. Lokur, Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice A.K. Sikri along with advocates like Mukul Rohatgi, Madhavi Divan, Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju.
He has also worked with the United Nations in Geneva briefly.