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Indian Case Summary

S.P. Gupta vs Union Of India & Anr on 30 December, 1981 – Case Summary

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In the case of S.P. Gupta vs Union of India & Anr on 30 December 1981, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with issues of great constitutional importance affecting the independence of the judiciary. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of P.N. Bhagwati, A.C. Gupta, S.M. Fazalali, V.D. Tulzapurkar, and D.A. Desai.

Facts of the Case

The case was initiated by a writ petition filed by S.P. Gupta, challenging a circular letter dated March 18, 1981, issued by Shri Shiv Shankar, the then Law Minister of the Government of India. The circular letter was addressed to the Governor of Punjab and the Chief Ministers of other states, suggesting that one-third of the judges of a High Court should, as far as possible, be from outside the state in which that High Court is situated. This suggestion was made to further national integration and combat narrow parochial tendencies bred by caste, kinship, and other local links and affiliations.

The circular letter also requested the Chief Ministers to obtain consent from all the Additional Judges working in the High Court of their respective states to be appointed as permanent Judges in any other High Court in the country. The letter also asked for the consent of persons who had already been or may in the future be proposed for initial appointment to be appointed to any other High Court in the country.

Issues Raised

The petitioners, who were advocates practicing in the High Court of Bombay, challenged the constitutional validity of the circular letter. They argued that the circular letter was a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary, which is a basic feature of the Constitution. They sought a declaration that if consent had been given by any Additional Judge or by any person whose name had been or is to be submitted for appointment as a Judge, consequent on or arising from the circular letter, it should be held to be null and void.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that the arguments presented before it had occupied as many as thirty-five days and had ranged over a large number of issues comprising every imaginable aspect of the judicial institution. The court acknowledged the assistance rendered by the learned counsel in the delicate and difficult task of adjudicating upon highly sensitive issues arising in these writ petitions.

The court emphasized the need to examine the arguments objectively and dispassionately without being swayed by populist approach or sentimental appeal. It stressed the importance of interpreting the Constitution as it is and not as we think it ought to be. The court also noted that the Constitution is an organic instrument intended to endure and its provisions must be interpreted having regard to the constitutional objectives and goals and not in the light of how a particular Government may be acting at a given point of time.

The court, in its judgment, proceeded to state the facts of the writ petitions and discussed the issues raised in each of them. The court also examined the constitutional validity of the circular letter and the practice followed by the Central Government in appointing Additional Judges in various High Courts. The court’s observations and conclusions on these issues form the crux of the judgment in this case.