Former Judge of the Supreme Court of India
Assumed Office17th Feb, 2017
Retired On18th Aug, 2021
Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court May 14th 2016 - February 1st 2017
Judge of the Chhattisgarh High CourtJuly 2014 - May 13th 2016
Judge of the Patna High Court February 11th 2004 - July 2014
Early Life and Education
Justice Sinha is the grandson of Babu Baldev Sahay, Bihar’s first advocate general, and Dr Raghunath Saran, personal physician to India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He is the son of Benoy Sinha who retired as additional secretary in the Ministry of Power, Government of India. He studied law from Delhi University and practised in the Patna High Court for 23 years on civil, constitutional, labour, service, commercial, company and criminal matters.
Career as a Judge
In 2004, he was appointed as a Permanent Judge of the Patna High Court. In July 2014, he was transferred to Chhattisgarh High Court. He was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court on May 14th 2016. He was elevated to the Supreme Court on February 17th 2017.
Since his elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Sinha has authored around 100 judgments in total. Out of these, approximately 35 per cent relate to criminal law (source: Manupatra). He has also disposed of a significant number of cases relating to Service Law, Civil Law and Property Law. This classification though is far from perfect, as a single case may overlap multiple areas of law.
Although Justice Sinha’s contribution as a Supreme Court judge is primarily in the area of criminal law, we note below a few of his significant judgments drawn from diverse subject areas:
In International Spirits and Wines Association of India v State of Haryana and Ors, Justice Sinha wrote the majority opinion on behalf of himself and the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. Sinha J held that the Haryana Liquor License Rule, which allowed a single licensee to deal in imported foreign liquor for the entire State was invalid. The appellants had challenged the licensing process on the ground that the relevant parent legislation, Punjab Excise Act – 1914 (Act), did not give the Excise Commissioner the power to confer a monopoly on a private entity to trade in imported liquor. The Court held that as per the majority the amendment of the relevant rules, which paved way for the conferment of license to a single licensee, was not authorized by the parent Act.
Justice Sinha wrote the judgment on behalf of himself and Justice RF Nariman in Monsanto Technology LLC v Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. and Ors, which was one of the most keenly watched biotech patent litigation in India. Monsanto had approached the Court to set aside a decision of the Delhi High Court, which had declared Monsanto’s patent over Bt. Technology invalid. The Delhi HC decision came in litigation where Monsanto claimed that the Respondents, to whom they had sub-licensed their patented technology, had not just infringed its patent but also violated contractual terms concerning the payment of licence fee.
The Supreme Court though overturned the decision of the Delhi HC. It held that the division bench of the Delhi HC had erred in making its decision in a technically complex matter without the benefit of evidence obtained through a trial. Given this, the Court remitted the case back for a decision on the validity of the patent.
In Anand Ramachandra Chougule and Ors. v Sidarai Laxman Chougala and Ors the question before the Court was whether the High Court was correct in convicting the Respondents under a less criminal stringent provision – Section 304 – as opposed to Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While Section 302 relates to punishment for murder, Section 304 is applied when the accused is found to have a lesser degree of criminal intent in committing the homicide. In this case, the Appellants challenged the High Court’s decision to only convict the Respondents under Section 304. The Appellants argued that the Respondents had committed premeditated murder and they should have been convicted under Section 302, instead of Section 304.
The Division Bench consisting of Justices Navin Sinha and Ashok Bhushan rejected the argument of the Appellants. They found that the prosecution had concealed the fact that the Respondents themselves had filed an FIR about a scuffle that broke out between the deceased and the Respondents and they had sustained injuries in the said scuffle.
In Bhagwat v State of Maharashtra, the Appellant challenged his conviction for murder on the ground that it was based on an erroneous dying declaration. A Bench consisting of Justice Sinha and Justice K.M. Joseph had to decide whether the conviction can be upheld when there were multiple conflicting dying declarations. To do this, the Bench examined the nature of each of the three declarations. The first two, the Bench held, were not reliable. For instance, the first one was not signed by the concerned doctor and contained self-serving statements supporting the Appellant. Similarly, the second one was an oral statement made in the presence of the Appellant’s relatives and therefore of a self-serving nature.
As opposed to the first two declarations, the third one which implicated the Appellant, was made in the presence of a Special Judicial Magistrate, who also proved the same. Given this, the Court considered it to be corroborative material, i.e., supporting other evidence which already pointed to the involvement of the Appellant.
In light of these findings, the Bench upheld the conviction. Nevertheless, given that the Appellant had already served 15 years in custody, the Bench directed that he be provided with necessary legal support to seek a remission in his sentence.
In Mohammed Imran v State of Maharashtra and Ors, the Appellant was selected to the Maharashtra judicial service. Nevertheless, his selection was cancelled based on a verification report of the police. The adverse verification report was because he was previously tried for an offence under the Indian Penal Code. Although the Appellant was never convicted, the State of Maharashtra argued that since he was accused of an offence involving moral turpitude, he cannot be considered for judicial service.
A three-judge Bench consisting of Justices Sinha, Kurian Joseph and Sanjay Kishan Kaul rejected the State’s argument. They held that “To make past conduct, irrespective of all considerations, an albatross around the neck of the candidate, may not always constitute justice. Much will depend on the fact situation of a case”. Although Justice Sinha, speaking on behalf of the Bench, agreed that the yardstick for appointment to judicial service may be different from that applied to others, the nature of allegations and conduct in the facts of the case should be considered before deciding eligibility.
Apart from the finding that he was never convicted, Justice Sinha also noted that “An alleged single misadventure or misdemeanour of the present nature, if it can be considered to be so, cannot be sufficient to deny appointment to the Appellant when he has on all other aspects and parameters been found to be fit for appointment”.