I would definitely not be writing about every other judge retiring, despite being a law scholar, for the simple fact that it is not always necessary. But this one is super necessary for two reasons-
• Firstly, to cherish Justice Banumathi’s lengthy, distinctive and onerous judicial journey, and,
• Secondly, because the ladies and law scholars need to know about her legacy.
Justice R. Banumathi retired this sunday, leaving behind a three-decade long judicial career.
Born in a small village in Tamil Nadu, Banumathi lost her father to a bus accident when she was merely 2 years old. Her family had to suffer even further due to the convoluted judicial procedures as they were not provided with the monetary compensation owed to them, till the last day. Hardly could have anybody imagined, that the 2 years old from that family would end up being a Supreme Court Judge- only the 6th women to ever do so– and deliver justice to so many other families, who had fallen victim to the delay and denial of justice.
I could have jotted down all her achievements but do not expect me to do that folks, they are just too many. The most fascinating one, though, to me is her rise to the Apex court of India, given that her judicial career began in the District and Mofussil courts of Tamil Nadu, directly recruited through Tamil Nadu Higher Judicial Service in 1988.
I must tell that very few district judges ever make it to the higher judiciary, let alone the Supreme Court. Most of you must be, supposedly, aware of the norms and narratives around the appointment of the Supreme Court judges. I am not diving into those issues, you will find a lot of people acquainted with them. But appointment there is truly tough, since the Supreme Court has somekind of a tryst with judges who had their first appointment in High Courts.
She was elevated to the Madras High Court in 2003 and ten years later, was appointed as the Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court. In 2014, she was elevated to the Supreme Court of India thus becoming only the second women sessions judge to rise to the apex- Fathima Beevi J. being the first. Her tenure in the Apex Court remains special as well given that she had held the office for 6 years, lot more than the average of 3.87 years, and that she had authored more judgements- total 386– than any of the presently sitting judges of the Supreme Court. Her judgements mostly revolve around criminal law. Most notably, she was the only female judge of the Bench in Mukesh v. State for NCT of Delhi (Nirbhaya case). A case that brought about humongous reforms in the criminal law structure of our country. Concurring with the majority, she upheld the death sentence of the accused.
With appointment of Justice Indira Banerjee in august of 2018, for the first time ever the Supreme Court had three women judges on the roster. Retirement of Justice Banumathi has brought that number, though, down to only two. Thus, in this context the next appointment for the vacant office would be an interesting one to follow.