Top India court backs gay lawyer's appointment over govt objections

India's Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi

By Arpan Chaturvedi and Tanvi Mehta

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top court has reiterated its backing for lawyer Saurabh Kirpal to be appointed as a judge at the Delhi High Court even after the federal government made objections to his candidature.

Kirpal's name was first cleared in 2017 and was approved by the Supreme Court collegium in 2021. But the proposal was sent back by the government last November.

The government says Kirpal's "ardent involvement and passionate attachment to the cause of gay-rights" could influence his decisions and also objected to his candidature since his partner is a Swiss national.

The Supreme Court collegium, comprising India's chief justice and two other senior judges, refuted both objections from the government and reiterated its recommendation for Kirpal's appointment.

"There is no reason to pre-suppose that the partner of the candidate, who is a Swiss National, would be inimically disposed to our country, since the country of his origin is a friendly nation," the collegium said in a statement, also crediting Kirpal for his openly gay stance.

"As a prospective candidate for judgeship, he has not been surreptitious about his orientation."

Kirpal declined to comment on the top court's support for his appointment.

Judges for the Supreme Court and the 25 high courts across India are appointed through a quarter-century-old mechanism that involves both sitting judges and government officials.

A group of senior judges, known as the collegium, presents candidates' names to the law ministry, and these names are approved if they clear security checks.

The collegium called on the government to expeditiously deal with the reiterated recommendation. If elected, Kirpal would be India's first openly gay judge.

India's colonial-era ban on gay sex was scrapped in 2018, but members of India's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community still complain of a lack of acceptance and discrimination in Indian society.

The top court's support comes at a time when senior officials in the government have said they want to have a bigger role in choosing judges, a demand several lawyers and judges say threatens the independence of the judiciary.

The government has recently held back on approving several candidates, without giving a reason.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Bernadette Baum)