First serving judge to be Union Law Secretary is first Law Secretary to be HC judge

IN OCTOBER 2019, Anoop Kumar Mendiratta was picked from a pool of 60 candidates to become the first serving judge to be appointed Union Law Secretary. On Friday, he became the first Union Law Secretary to be appointed as a High Court judge.

The former district and sessions judge at the Karkardooma courts in the capital will now take his seat in the Delhi High Court, with a tenure of over three years.

“Our Law Secretary Shri Anoop Kumar Mendiratta has been appointed as Judge of Delhi High Court. He has been a judicial officer of high integrity and sound knowledge in law. I thank him for his valuable services. I wish him success in his new role as a Judge to deliver Justice,” Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju posted on Twitter.

In July last year, the Delhi High Court had made eight recommendations for judges. On February 3 this year, the Supreme Court collegium recommended six from that list for appointment.

On Friday, a notification by the Ministry of Law and Justice stated: “In exercise of the power conferred in Clause (1) of Article 217 of the Constitution of India, the President is pleased to appoint (1) Smt Neena Bansal Krishna, (2) Dinesh Kumar Sharma, (3) Anoop Kumar Mendiratta, (4) Sudhir Kumar Jain, to be judge of the Delhi High Court, in that order of seniority, with affect from the date they assume charge of their respective offices.”

With these appointments, the Delhi High Court’s working strength will increase to 34 — barely more than half of its sanctioned strength of 62 judges.

Mendiratta, incidentally, was the former Delhi Principal Secretary (Law) who locked horns with the AAP government over sanction to prosecute a group of JNU students, including former students’ union leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, in an alleged sedition case.

In January 2019, with the case stalled in court without sanction, the file was sent by Delhi’s Home department to the Law department for an opinion. Mendiratta, as Principal Secretary, sent back the file and said the Lieutenant Governor was the competent authority in the matter.

This irked the Delhi government, with Law Minister Kailash Gahlot issuing Mendiratta a show cause notice asking why the file was sent back without being brought to his notice.

Mendiratta, responding to the charge of insubordination, argued that only the Lieutenant Governor was the competent authority to undertake an independent assessment of the alleged sedition case to grant prosecution sanction. He was repatriated to the Delhi Judicial Service, his parent cadre. Subsequently, his appointment as Union Law Secretary broke the practice of an additional secretary from the Indian Legal Services (ILS) pool being elevated to the post. As Union Law Secretary, Mendiratta was instrumental in hosting a meeting of Ministers of Justice of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). While this is the first time that a Union Law Secretary has been appointed as a high court judge, the elevation of district judges serving on deputation with governments or the judiciary is not uncommon.

In 2018, the then Supreme Court secretary general Ravindra Maithani was appointed as a judge of Uttarakhand High Court. In 2019, A Santosh Reddy, a former district and sessions judge in Telangana who was serving as the state’s Law Secretary, was appointed a judge of Telangana HC.

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