Early Life and Career as an Advocate
Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was born on November 9th, 1957, in Solapur, Maharashtra. His father, U.R. Lalit, was an Additional Judge at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court’s and a senior advocate at the Supreme Court. Justice U.U. Lalit enrolled as an advocate in June 1983. He specialised in criminal law and practiced at the Bombay HC from 1983 to 1985. Following his stint at the Bombay HC, he worked in the chambers of then Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, from 1986 to 1992.
As a lawyer, Justice Lalit appeared on behalf of several high profile personalities. In 1994, he represented the BJP leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, who was charged with contempt of court for failing to prevent the Babri Masjid demolition. Mr. Singh had previously submitted an affidavit assuring the Supreme Court that untoward incidents would be prevented at the disputed site.
Justice Lalit represented Salman Khan in his 1998 poaching case, when the actor was charged with killing two blackbucks, an endangered species of antelope. Further, he reportedly represented BJP leader and then Gujarat Minister of State for Home, Amit Shah, who was charged with murder in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case.
Career as an Advocate at the Supreme Court
Justice Lalit was designated as Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court in April, 2004. He aided the Court as an amicus curiae in many important matters pertaining to forests, vehicular pollution and pollution of the Yamuna river. In 2011, he was appointed as the Special Public Prosecutor in the 2G Spectrum scam case. He also served as a member of the Supreme Court’s Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) for two terms.
Career as a Judge
Justice Lalit was elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court directly from the Bar on August 13th, 2014. He was the sixth Judge elevated directly to the SC without having served as a Judge in a lower court or High Court. As an SC Judge, he was appointed as the Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on May 14th, 2021.
During his tenure Justice Lalit recused himself from several high-profile cases. On November 12th, 2014, he recused himself from death row convict Yakub Memon’s review plea—Justice Lalit, while still an advocate, had represented one of the parties in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case in which Mr. Memon was convicted.
On September 4th, 2015, Justice Lalit recused himself in the 2008 Malegaon Blasts case—he had previously, as a lawyer, defended some of the accused in the matter. On January 10th, 2019, he recused himself from Ayodhya Title Dispute as he had represented Mr. Kalyan Singh, an accused in the case, in the past.
Justice Lalit took over as the 49th Chief Justice of India on August 27th, 2022, and will serve as the CJI for 2.5 months. He is the second CJI to have been directly elevated to the Supreme Court from the Bar after former CJI S.M. Sikri.
Tenure at the Supreme Court in Numbers
Figure 1 shows that, during Justice Lalit’s nine-year tenure at the SC, he has written 297 Judgments and has been part of 950 Benches.
Figure 2 depicts a subject-matter breakdown of the Judgments authored by Justice Lalit. His background in criminal law appears to reflect in his judgments—the vast majority of his judgments have been on criminal matters (34.62%). Service matters (10.06%) come second, closely followed by civil (6.21%) and property (6.21%) matters.
Where Are They Now?
Following his retirement, former CJI Lalit expressed his desire to teach law. He specifically mentioned the possibility of being a resource person at the National Judicial Academy and a visiting professor at other law schools.
When asked about accepting a job from the government, he said he was not ‘averse’ to the idea. He pointed to positions like the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission or the Law Commission which have ‘traditionally’ been held by former SC Judges. However, he also said he would not accept a nomination to the Rajya Sabha (as was offered to CJI Gogoi), stating that it is ‘not befitting’ for a former Chief Justice and called it a ‘demotion’.
Currently, no public statement has been made regarding CJI Lalit’s future career.
Justices Lalit and A.K. Goel introduced three procedural safeguards to prevent the ‘misuse’ of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, in Kashinath Mahajan v State of Maharashtra (2018). They held that the police must conduct a preliminary enquiry before registering an FIR, receive further approval from the investigating officer before carrying out an arrest, and laid down the procedure for grant of anticipatory bail under the Act.
Justice Lalit was part of the five-Judge Constitution Bench that heard the Triple Talaq case in 2017. In this case, Ms. Shayara Bano challenged the practice of talaq-e-bidat or instant triple talaq which allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by uttering the word ‘talaq’ three times. The Bench ruled that the practice was unconstitutional and violated the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.
In July 2020, Justices Lalit and Indu Malhotra upheld the rights of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore to manage the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. The Kerala HC had previously ordered the Kerala government to set up a trust to control and manage the temple. The SC’s Judgment held that ‘shebaitship’, like other heritable property, would follow the line of inheritance from the founder and it was not open to the Court to alter the rule of succession.
In November, 2021, Justice Lalit led the three-Judge Bench comprising himself and Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi, which reversed the Bombay HC’s controversial Judgment that held that ‘skin-to-skin’ contact was necessary to constitute sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The Bench held that adopting a narrow definition of ‘skin’ and ‘touch’ under Section 7 of the Act would lead to an absurd interpretation of the provision and would defeat the purpose of the Act.