In a milestone for LGBTQIA+ rights in India, the Supreme Court collegium recommended the elevation of senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal as a judge in the Delhi High Court. The recommendation, finalised in a meeting on 11 November, comes after the collegium rejected his candidature four times since 2018 based on an alleged objection from the union government.
If appointed by the Centre, Kirpal will be the first openly gay judge of a constitutional court in India.
“The Supreme Court Collegium, in its meeting held on 11th November, 2021, has approved the proposal for elevation of Shri Saurabh Kirpal, advocate, as judge in the Delhi High Court,” read the collegium’s resolution stated.
Headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, the SC collegium includes Uday U Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao.
Kirpal's Erudite Career
After studying physics at St Stephen’s College in Delhi, Kirpal read law at the University of Oxford and did his master’s in law at the University of Cambridge. He worked briefly with the United Nations in Geneva before returning to Delhi. He has been practising law at the Supreme Court for well over two decades and has appeared in a range of matters involving fundamental rights.
Kirpal is best known for the Navtej Johar case, which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Currently, he is also representing a set of petitioners fighting for same-sex marriage rights.
In October 2017, the Delhi High Court recommended him to be appointed as judge. Kirpal’s nomination was forwarded to the Supreme Court’s collegium. The said collegium deferred the decision on Kirpal’s elevation four times since receiving the recommendation in 2017.
On 19 March 2021, Kirpal was elevated as a Senior Advocate by the Delhi High Court. He was the court’s unanimous choice, with all the 31 judges voting in his favour.
Why Kirpal Wants to Be a Judge?
In an interview to The Quint in June this year, Kirpal said that he owed it to the system and felt that it was time for diversity in the judiciary.
“If we are not willing to reform system, then we have ourselves to blame, right? We have received so much from the judicial fraternity. I think we really owe it to the system. But that is a general part of why I consented to be a judge. Another deep reason for it was the fact of my sexuality, right? I would have been India’s first openly gay judge and even if someone else had come, it wouldn’t matter. I would have potentially been a role model for the queer community. For young lawyers, young students, to look up and say, ‘If this person can make it, maybe, so can I.’”
Kirpal also expected hurdles along the way, and a long wait.
“I was fairly certain when my name was considered for elevation and was recommended, that it may not be the easiest path. I was going to be a person of alternative sexuality whose name was going to be considered and I knew that it could take its own time. So, there was delay and you expected that there would be some hurdles potentially along the way,” he added.
The Quint has reached out to Kirpal for a comment after the recommendation by SC collegium. The copy will be updated.