Former Chief Justice of India
Assumed Office4th Jan, 2017
Retired On27th Aug, 2017
Judge of the Supreme Court of IndiaSeptember 13th 2011 – January 3rd 2017
Chief Justice of the Karnataka High CourtAugust 8th 2010 – September 12th 2011
Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court November 29th 2009 – August 7th 2010
On 4 January 2017 J. Jagdish Singh Khehar forged history as the Supreme Court’s first Sikh Chief Justice. He spent six years at the Supreme Court including eight months as the Chief Justice.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya on 28 August 1952, J. Khehar acquired Indian citizenship in 1965. He attended Government Law College, Chandigarh in 1974 before attending law school in Panjab University, Chandigarh. Following his legal education, Justice Khehar enrolled as an advocate in 1979. He mainly practised in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Himachal Pradesh High Court and the Supreme Court of India. In addition to his legal practice, J. Khehar engaged with a teaching assignment at the Panjab University’s Law Faculty from 1982 to 1986.
In 1992 he was appointed as the Additional Advocate General to the State of Punjab and was the Senior Standing Counsel for the Union Territory of Chandigarh. He was designated as a Senior Advocate in 1995.
After twenty years in the Bar, Justice Khehar was elevated to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1999, where was the Acting Chief Justice on two occasions between 2008 and 2009. A decade after his initial appointment as a judge, he was elevated as the Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court in November 2009 and was later transferred to the Karnataka High Court in August 2010. On 13 September 2011 J. Khehar got his final judicial assignment as a Supreme Court judge.
During his six-year term at the Supreme Court, Justice Thakur authored a total of 176 judgements He was most active in 2014 when he delivered 34 judgements and was a part of 63 benches.
In the six years of his tenure at the Supreme Court, Justice Khehar predominantly worked on criminal matters along with a mixture of civil, service and constitutional matters. He was involved in landmark cases around judicial appointments, the right to liberty and freedom of religion.
As a Chief Justice, J. Khehar led a five-judge constitutional bench that adjudicated on the validity of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and The National Judicial Appointment Act, 2014. In NJAC V Union of India, the bench held that the amendment and the Act were unconstitutional for violating the basic structure of the Constitution. The independence of the Judiciary is an essential element of the basic structure. Involvement of political executives in the judicial appointment process tampered with judicial independence, the Court noted.
In 2016, a bench comprising of Justices Khehar and SA Bobde upheld the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’. The bench was determining if temporary employees were entitled to the same pay as permanent employees. Invoking Articles 14, 38 (2) and 39 the bench held that temporary employees could not be denied minimum wages.
In the same year, Justice Khehar adjudicated the powers of the governor and the scope of judicial review. The Court was concerned with two issues concerning the dissolution of the Arunanchal Pradesh Legislative assembly: First, the Governor’s decision to advance assembly session and remove the speaker and second, the disqualification of MLAs by the speaker. The Court held that the Governor does not have wide discretionary powers and that the governor can employ their discretion on the advice of the council of ministers. Further, it was held that the disqualification of members to reduce the number of members ‘present and voting’ is unconstitutional.
Later in 2017, Justice Khehar gave the dissenting opinion in the judgement holding the practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional. He argued that the practice of Talaq-e-biddat was protected by Article 25 of the Constitution. He stated that the legislature must adjudicate this issue. Justice Khehar ordered a temporary injunction on the use of triple talaq and further directed the legislature to adjudicate on its validity.
In KS Puttaswamy v Union of India, 2017 Justice Khehar concurred with Justice Chandrachud in holding that the right to privacy was an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The judgement stated that privacy is directly linked to the notion of liberty and dignity. It is concomitant of an individual’s right to exercise control over their personality. The right to privacy finds its origin in the belief that certain natural or inherent rights are inseparable from the human personality.