Justice Arun Mishra retired last week on 02 September. During his six-year stint at the Supreme Court, he emerged as one of the most popular judges in the current cohort and also as one often mired in controversies.
Having begun his legal career at the Madhya Pradesh Bar, Mishra was first elevated to the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 1999 after twenty years of practice. Subsequently, he served as the Chief Justice of two High Courts – Rajasthan and Calcutta. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2014.
In 2018, the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, apart from the Chief Justice, convened an unprecedented press conference – a first in the history of the Supreme Court. Some believe that CJI Deepak Misra’s assignment of the highly controversial case surrounding the death of Judge Loya to J. Mishra pushed these four judges into making public their concerns about the lack of transparency in the Supreme Court. Others charged that past CJIs' preferred assigning politically sensitive cases to J. Mishra’s docket, overlooking other senior judges.
These controversies aside, as a judge of the Supreme Court, J. Mishra authored 132 judgments, higher than the average of the current sitting judges: 90. The majority of his judgments are around property law, although his judgments in civil, criminal, and constitutional matters were also significant and sometimes controversial. Most recently, he was part of the three-judge bench that took suo moto cognizance, and ultimately convicted Prashant Bhushan, of criminal contempt for his tweets. Some caution that this judgment could have a chilling effect on free speech.
On the other hand, J. Mishra authored the judgment in Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma. This case held that the 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 could be applied retrospectively. As a result, the daughter of a man who had died before 2005 could also claim equal rights in ancestral property. This judgment was widely celebrated as a positive step for gender equality in property rights – although some commentators pointed out that the language of the judgment reinforced gender stereotypes and failed to touch upon the practical issues involved in women claiming ancestral property rights.
After J. Banumathi’s retirement on 19 July, J. Mishra is the second justice to retire in the Court’s monsoon season. As we wrote earlier, the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court is likely to either take place in November 2020 or in early 2021. In the wake of both J. Banumathi and J. Mishra’s retirements, who will be elevated in their place and when?