Former Judge of the Supreme Court of India
Assumed Office8th Mar, 2013
Retired On29th Nov, 2018
Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High CourtFebruary 8th 2010-March 7th 2013
Judge of the Kerala High CourtJuly 12th 2000-February 7th 2010
Justice Kurian Joseph was elevated to the Supreme Court of India on March 8th 2013. He retired on November 29th 2018. He began his legal career when he graduated from the Kerala Law Academy in 1978 with an LL.B. While a student, he was the General Secretary of the Kerala University Union (1978).
He formally began his legal practice in 1979 in the High Court of Kerala. Within 10 years, he was appointed as Government Pleader. He was named as the Additional Advocate General in 1994 and was designated as Senior Advocate in 1996. Four years later, Justice Joseph was elevated as a Judge, High Court of Kerala, and was made the President of the Kerala Judicial Academy (2006-08); he was also made the Chairman of Legal Service Authorities in Kerala (2009-10) and Lakshadweep (2008), and the Kerala High Court (2006-09).
Justice Joseph served as Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala twice and was subsequently appointed as Chief Justice of High Court of Himachal Pradesh from 2010 to 2013. On March 8th 2013 he was nominated to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court of India.
Justice Joseph was one of the four judges who held the 2017 press conference where they criticised CJI Dipak Misra.
Speaking on his retirement, Justice Joseph publicly vowed to not accept any post-retirement offices, citing the importance of maintaining the independence of the judiciary.
Justice Kurian Joseph has authored 1110 judgments (according to Manupatra) in the Supreme Court which is the 10th highest among all Supreme Court Justices. Below is an overview of his most significant judgments:
In 2014, Justice Joseph, writing the judgement for a 3-Judge Bench including Chief Justice Lodha and Justice Nariman, held that electronic evidence must be admissible as evidence only after its authenticity is verified. It thus stated that the position taken by the Court in 2005 Parliament Attack case (also known as the case of Afzal Guru) was legally incorrect.
Justice Joseph wrote a separate concurring opinion in Manoj Narula v UOI, 2014 wherein the petitioner wanted the Court to issue guidelines against the appointment of such Ministers to Cabinet against whom criminal charges were framed. While rejecting the petition in a separate concurring opinion, Justice Joseph observed that the Chief Minister or Prime Minister should act on propriety and refrain from appointing Ministers against whom criminal charges have been framed by the Court.
In 2015, Justice Joseph wrote a separate concurring opinion in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v UOI, which invalidated the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC). In his opinion, he was critical of the collegium system which he stated: “require[s] a ‘glasnost‘ and ‘perestroika‘ “. In a 4:1 verdict, the Court struck down the 99th Constitutional Amendment, thus holding NJAC as unconstitutional.
He initially heard Yakub Memon’s appeal to the Supreme Court along with Justice Dave in 2015. However, due to conflicting opinions, the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench.
In 2017, he authored a concurring opinion in Shayara Bano v UOI which invalidated the practice of triple talaq. Declaring that the practice is not integral to Islam, the Court in a 3:2 ratio struck down the practice. The minority judgement by then Chief Justice J. Khehar declared that the Parliament had to draft a law on the matter.
In 2018, he was part of the five-Judge Bench which decided to not review Nagaraj. In Nagaraj, the Court upheld reservation in promotion for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, while laying down conditions that made it more difficult for the Government to issue such reservations. Interestingly, in its 2018 judgment, the SC extended the creamy layer exclusion principle to SCs and STs benefitting from a reservation in promotion.
A day ahead of retirement, Justice Joseph headed the 3-Judge Bench which commuted the death penalty of a man convicted of murder in Channu Lal Verma v the State of Chattisgarh. While commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment, Justice Joesph observed that “the High Court has erroneously confirmed death penalty without correctly applying the law laid down in Bachan Singh, Macchi Singh, Santosh Bariyar and Shankar Kisanrao Khade. The decision to impose the highest punishment of death sentence in the case does not fulfil the test of “rarest of rare case where the alternative action is unquestionably foreclosed”.
Drawing support from the 2015 Law Commission Report which recommended abolition of the death penalty for all crimes other than terrorism-related violence and waging war, he questioned the need for the death penalty as a punishment. In para 23 of the judgment, he observed that “having regard to the said Report of Law Commission that the constitutional regulation of capital punishment attempted in Bachan Singh has failed to prevent death sentences from being “arbitrarily and freakishly” imposed and that capital punishment has failed to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals, we are of the view that the time has come where we view the need for the death penalty as a punishment, especially its purpose and practice.”
It is noteworthy that though other Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta concurred with Justice Joseph on commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment, they dissented on the question of abolishing the death penalty entirely.