Advocate Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri on Tuesday took oath as an additional judge of the Madras High Court. The oath ceremony took place even as the Supreme Court was hearing two petitions against her appointment.

The court subsequently dismissed the petitions, Live Law reported.

The Supreme Court collegium, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, had recommended the appointment of Gowri and four others to the Madras High Court on January 17. But lawyers and legal experts criticised the collegium’s move to recommend Gowri’s name as she is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and has previously made offensive comments about Christians and Muslims.

Her appointment had been notified by the Centre on Monday.

On Tuesday, a bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai said it cannot presume that while recommending Gowri’s appointment, the Supreme Court collegium was not aware of the controversial statements she had made about Muslims and Christians.

Justice Khanna noted that judicial appointments can be challenged on eligibility but not on suitability. “The courts should not get into suitability otherwise whole process will become haywire,” he said, according to Live Law.

Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for the petitioners, argued that the challenge was on grounds of eligibility. He said that the comments made by Gowri amounted to hate speech, which goes against the oath taken by judges to “bear true faith to the Constitution in its letter and spirit”.

However, Justice Khanna responded: “For us to get into this is opening up new jurisdiction which we have refrained from doing so.”

The Supreme Court was initially supposed to hear the petitions at 9.15 am on Tuesday, ahead of Gowri’s scheduled oath at 10.15 am. However, a new causelist was released on Tuesday morning and the hearing started only at 10.30 am.

Leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Madras High Court advocates affiliated to the All India Lawyers Union held protests outside the court on Tuesday after Gowri was sworn in.

Objections against Gowri’s appointment

Last week, members of the Madras High Court Bar had written to the collegium and President Droupadi Murmu, drawing their attention to the comments made by her about minority communities.

The letters had said that Gowri’s “regressive views are completely antithetical to foundational Constitutional values and reflect her deep-rooted religious bigotry”. This, the lawyers argued, made her unfit to be appointed as a High Court judge.

The Madras High Court lawyers referred to two interviews that Gowri gave to a YouTube channel purportedly hosted by the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The interviews are titled “Cultural genocide by Christian missionaries in Bharat” and “More threat to national security & peace? Jihad or Christian missionary?”.

The lawyers also drew the attention of the president and the collegium to an article written by her in the Organiser, the English language mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

“The Christian sectarianism and bigotry indulging in organised alluring conversions continuously has shrunk the majority Hindus to minorities,” Gowri said in the article. “...But not a finger is lifted to stop allured and coerced conversions and to prevent Christians from conceiving communal conflicts.”

The advocates in their letters said her remarks in these interviews and the article amounts to hate speech and are likely to incite communal violence. They asked the president and the collegium how any litigant belonging to Christian or Muslim communities “ever hope to get justice in her court if she becomes the judge”.

The lawyers noted that Gowri also described herself as “Chowkidar Victoria Gowri”.

On Monday, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud had said that the collegium has taken cognisance of the complaints against Gowri.

“There are certain developments which have taken place, in the sense that the collegium has taken cognisance of what was drawn to our attention, or came to our notice, after we formulated our recommendations on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the collegium of High Court of Madras,” he had said.