Karnataka High Court Judge, Justice Jayant Patel has resigned from service, reportedly protesting his non-elevation as the Chief Justice of any High Court, despite his seniority.
Justice Patel joined the Bar in August, 1979 and initially started practice at District Court, Rajkot. He shifted his practice to Gujarat High Court in 1985 and was then elevated as an Additional Judge of the High Court in December, 2001. He was confirmed as a permanent Judge in August, 2004. Thereafter, he was appointed as the Acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court in August, 2015 and was sworn in as a Judge of Karnataka High Court in February, 2016.
While the issue of Justice Patel’s elevation has been brought up several times in the past, the final stroke seems to have been his transfer to Allahabad High Court, where he was to be the third senior-most Judge.
On 16th March, 2017 in an article published in The Wire, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave had opined that Justice Patel deserved to be considered for elevation to the Supreme Court or as the Chief Justice of an important High Court. He had then written:
“Justice Patel, appointed on December 3, 2001, is senior to four of the five recent appointees. For no reason he is not being confirmed as chief justice although the previous collegium had recommended the transfer of the incumbent chief justice out of Karnataka to facilitate the appointment of Justice Patel in his place.
More painful is the fact that the collegium has recommended nine judges for appointment as chief justices in nine high courts. Each of them is junior to Justice Patel by periods ranging from two months to four and a half years. Why so?”
It has been speculated that Justice Patel has been paying the price for directing a CBI investigation into the controversial Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. Adding to such conjectures, Senior Advocate Mohan Katarki told LiveLaw: “The careerist judges are a bigger threat to the independence of a judiciary. Normally, a judge who is likely to be elevated to SC or as CJ of HC on mere seniority (as has been happening after introduction of collegium system) is a careerist.
However, Jayant Patel is an exception who placed his self respect above his career prospects and eventually paid for it which is unfortunate.
Patel's non elevation as CJ of a HC (which is rather automatic than elevation to SC) constitutes a gross political interference from those who are in power. The names are obviously obvious.
But, none in the legal profession stood up in support of Patel is a worrying factor. The Bombay lobby which is always in the forefront to resist politicization of judiciary appears to have unfortunately overlooked what was done to Patel.”