Key Judgements & Contribution of Justice JS Verma
Late Justice Jagadish Sharan Verma hailed from an Advocate Family. After a successful career as an advocate and lower judge, he became the acting Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in October 1985, and became its permanent Chief Justice in June 1986.
He later served three years as Chief Justice in the Rajasthan High Court. At 56, he joined the Supreme Court as a Judge in June 1989. He was the 27th Chief Justice of India from March 25, 1997 to January 18, 1998. Thereafter he was the chairman of National Human Rights Commission from 1999 to 2003. He was known for judicial innovation through landmark judgments, which made him “the face of judicial activism” in India. In the aftermath of the gang rape in Delhi, Justice Verma was appointed Chairperson of a three member commission tasked with reforming and invigorating anti-rape law. The formation of the panel as a whole eventually led to the Criminal Law (Amendment Act), 2013. Verma died from multiple organ failure on 22 April 2013 at the age of 80.
Justice J S Verma was one of the first Judges to order the release of Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) detainees during the Emergency. He headed the Commission of Inquiry set up to determine the nature of the security lapses that led to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. He concluded that the Intelligence Bureau had information of a possible assassination attempt, but failed to share it with the Tamil Nadu police. The Verma Commission report was submitted in June 1992.
Key Judgements which made him the face of Judicial Activism in India
Sarojini Ramaswamy vs Union of India,1992
In response to the plea made by the wife of Justice V. Ramaswamy, a motion for whose impeachment had been moved in Parliament, the Supreme Court held that even if the President removed a Supreme Court justice under Article 124(4), the concerned judge was entitled to a judicial review.
Article 124(4) is related to removal of the Judges. It says “A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.”
The Sarojini Ramaswamy case brought the order of the President under Article 124(4) under Judicial Review.
Nilabati Behra vs state of Orissa, 1993:
Justice JS Verma turned the letter of Nilabati Behra about the death of her 22-year-old son in custody into a writ petition. His judgement Awarded ` 1.5 lakh as compensation to Nilabati Behra.
In his judgement Justice Verma observed: “The right of compensation is some palliative for the unlawful acts of instrumentalities which act in the name of public interests and which present for their protection the powers of the state as a shield.”
Nilabati Behra vs State of Orissa, 1993 is considered to be one of the two major decisions on custodial deaths, other being D K Basu v. State of West Bengal.
S.R. Bommai vs Union of India, 1994
A nine-judge bench set aside the Presidential proclamation under Section 356(1) relating to Karnataka (April 21, 1989). The court held that the President could dissolve a state assembly only after parliamentary approval.
He could suspend the assembly, subject to approval by Parliament, within two months. Even so, the proclamations were subject to judicial review.
The SR Bommai case reiterated the stand of the Court that Preamble indicates the basic structure of the Constitution of India. The judgement noted that.
The Preamble indicates the basic Structure of the Constitution.
A Proclamation under Article 356(1) is open to judicial review on the ground of violating the basic structure of the Constitution.
It follows that a proclamation under Article 356(1), which violates any of the basic features, as summarized in the Preamble of the Constitution is liable to be struck down as unconstitutional.
A further extension of this innovation is that a political party, which appeals to religion in its election manifesto, acts in violation of the basic structure, and the President may impose President’s Rule on a report of the Governor that a party has issued such a manifesto.
Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors on 13 August, 1997
Justice Verma will be best remembered for his pioneering judgment in the Visakha case, which resulted in a series of guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at workplace, to be mandatorily followed till Parliament enacted the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013.
Justice Verma is also known for his active role, when he was the CJI, in the enunciation of Restatement of Values of Judicial Life, a set of principles or guidelines, to informally govern the conduct of judges of higher judiciary. He was also a great votary of declaration of assets by judges.
The jurisprudence of Justice Verma is under attack by his critics for imagining a role for the judiciary which was perhaps not envisaged by our founders, and which it cannot possibly perform. But his answer during his lifetime was that judicial activism, in the context of executive and legislative inaction, was justified.