In the midst of unprecedented jolt in the judiciary, advocate Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri had conferred with a judicial elevation as she was sworn in as an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court on Tuesday - February 7 at the same time when the litigations challenging her elevation were heard by the Supreme Court.
The appointment of Gowri as a judge had shaked up the legal fraternities as during her tenure as an advocate, Gowri had courted several controversies and was slammed for her hate speech against Christians and Muslims. Victoria Gowri had also served as the General Secretary of BJP's Mahila Morcha and had apparently displayed her support to the saffron party.
When the announcement of her elevation was made, it has come as a surprise to many on how the Supreme Court Collegium recommended her, though she has made hate speeches on several occasions. On January 2023, the Supreme Court Collegium led by the Chief Justice of India, recommended the name of Victoria Gowri to be appointed as a judge of the Madras High Court. A native of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, Gowri was one among the five advocates recommended for the elevation as the judges of the Madras High Court.
Criticizing her elevation as the judge, a league of lawyers approached the Supreme Court to revoke her appointment as the judge. On Monday, the Supreme Court had advanced the hearing of the petition challenging Gowri's elevation to Tuesday morning, based on the petitioners request, before her scheduled time of swearing-in at the Madras High Court complex. Ahead of the apex court's hearing, there were several overhauls on hearing the petition and it was finally listed out to be heard in the bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai.
As Gowri was set to swear-in as a Madras High Court judge at 10.30 am on Tuesday, the apex court started hearing the petition against her just minutes before she took her oath. By the time the court was hearing, Gowri had sworn in as the Additional Judge of the Madras High Court at around 10.45 am. Acting Chief Justice T Raja had adminstered the oath to Victoria Gowri in an affair that was closely-watched by the nation.
Back to the Supreme Court, all went in favour of Gowri as the apex court had refused to put a stay in Gowri's appointment. During the hearing, Justice Sanjiv Khanna said that there is a difference between eligibility and suitability. Khanna said, "On eligibility, there could be a challenge. The courts should not get into suitability, or the whole process will go haywire." Responding to Khanna's notion, advocate Raju Ramachandran, who represented the petitioners, had opposed the elevation of Gowri and said that Gowri's speeches and tweets expose her mindset.
Responding to Justice Gavai, who said that he too came from a political background which didn't affect his work as a judge, advocate Ramachandran argued that the question was not about the political affiliation but about hate speech. Ramachandran further argued that Victoria Gowri's swearing-in cannot be allowed to continue when the Chief Justice of India said that the collegium was looking into Gowri's appointment. He said, "It will be in deference to the collegium if it is stayed."
However, the Supreme Court bench of Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai had refused to stay the appointment of Victoria Gowri as an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court. By the time the top court completed its proceedings, Gowri took charge as a judge. Earlier, the petition against Gowri was listed before a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh. However, by citing his previous tenure with the Madras High Court, Sundresh stayed away from the hearing as he had also been consulted by the collegium before Gowri's recommendation.
After Sundresh refrained from the hearing, Justice Gavai shared the bench with Sanjiv Khanna for this urgent hearing that only went against the petitioners' concerns. When Gowri was recommended to be elevated as a judge, an Article 14 report had furnished several hate speeches she had made against Christians and Muslims. Outraged by her elevation and based on her hate speeches, a group of 21 advocates from the Madras High Court Bar Council sent representations urging President Droupadi Murmu and the Supreme Court Collegium to reconsider the recommendation of appointing Gowri as a judge.
It has been reported that the petition against Gowri's elevation was filed by three advocates of Madras High Court in which they said that Gowri had displayed strong prejudice against citizens based on their religions. The petition had also highlighted an article by Gowri in the RSS- affiliated publisher and her interview pretending that Christian Missonary and Jihad became a threat to the national security and peace. The petition had also said that these hate speeches weren't placed before the Supreme Court and Madras High Court collegia when Gowri's appointment as a judge was recommended.