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DU vs. St. Stephen’s: Justice KM Joseph Recuses From Hearing College’s Plea Against DU Admission Norms

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Supreme Court Law Insider

Bhuvana Marni

Published on: October 16, 2022 at 18:43 IST

Despite the University of Delhi’s revised admission policy, which mandates that constituent colleges admit students to undergraduate programmes solely based on the results of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), Justice K.M. Joseph withdrew from the investigation into whether St. Stephen’s College in Delhi was permitted to conduct interviews for non-Christian students on Friday.

This follows the recusal of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul earlier this week. Because he attended St. Stephen’s College, Justice Kaul declined to render a ruling on this matter.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who represents the college, made the point before Justices Kaul and Joseph on two separate occasions that Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, despite having attended St. Stephen’s in the past, not only heard but also wrote the decision in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case, which marked a turning point in the development of the Article 30 jurisprudence.

Justice Joseph made it clear that his decision to recuse himself had nothing to do with his religion, but rather was motivated by concern that the briefs he accepted to serve as an advocate would be prejudicial to the case—

“I was just telling my brother Justice that as a lawyer, I appeared for many minority institutes and something close to the subject matter…whether you would have a problem with my hearing. It is not because I belong to a minority community. But as a lawyer, I…”

A counsel interjected – “As a lawyer, we appear in so many matters. Today, we say one thing, just the next day, we will make a diametrically opposite argument”.

However, Justice Joseph noted that the implications were greater after being elevated to a Court as a Judge.

He said – “It is different when you come over to this side.”

The Solicitor-General, Tushar Mehta conceded – “That is entirely Your Lordship’s conscience. This cannot be a matter of argument.”

Justice Joseph eventually said – “Let it go. List it before a Bench of which I am not a part.”

The order of the Court was orally pronounced by Justice Hrishikesh Roy. Justice Roy dictated –

“The matter be listed before a Bench without one of us. The Registry will obtain necessary orders from the Hon’ble Chief Justice for listing the matter before an appropriate Bench.”

Earlier, the Solicitor-General had also assured that the University of Delhi would not take any precipitative action on admissions till the apex court heard the matter.

He informed the Court on Friday – “I had given some assurance. That obviously continues”.

The appeal against a Delhi high court ruling prohibiting St. Stephens College from interviewing non-Christian candidates was being considered by the bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy.

For these individuals, the college has insisted on using an 85:15 formula, in which the entrance exam result receives an 85% weighting and the college interview receives a 15% weighting.

The college has defended this approach by pointing to its position as a minority institution and asserting that it has the authority to make independent choices about admissions.

This was the second adjournment of the case due to a bench member’s recusal.

Case Title: St. Stephen’s College vs. University of Delhi & Anr.