Justice Kurian Joseph retires: ‘Silence of law men does more damage to society than violence of lawless men’

Justice Kurian Joseph, with wife Ruby, on his last working day at the Supreme Court, on Thursday. Express Photo by Seema Chishti

Minutes after he got back from the Supreme Court as judge, one final time, Justice Kurian Joseph let his antipathy for “neutrality, silence and indifference” be known. “Silence of the law men do more damage to society than the violence of lawless men,” he told The Indian Express. A votary of bringing passion into the courtroom and blending it with a “correct” approach, he said, “I can hold my head high and tell the world that I have done my best.”

Justice Joseph, who retired on Thursday, started as an advocate in the Kerala High Court, and four years after being designated senior advocate in 1996, joined the bench in 2000. He served twice as Acting Chief Justice before going to the High Court in Himachal Pradesh as Chief Justice. His elevation to the Supreme Court came five and a half years ago.

Hailing from Thannipuzha, Kalady, Ernakulam and belonging to a Roman Catholic family, Justice Joseph’s father was a clerk in the Kerala HC. He is known to lead a disciplined life: “your discipline decides your destiny”. He was a seminarian briefly, before starting to practise. Even as a judge, he is remembered for how matter of factly, in the dead of night, he helped pack material for the flood-affected along with the juniormost member of the Supreme Court Bar Association this year: “Whether Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam or HP, if I see someone in distress, I think it is my duty to assist them.”

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He said that every case he handled engaged him fully, and enabled him to stand for “the disadvantaged, the poor and the powerless”. His central idea was to move beyond the law and ensure “justice beyond law”. He said he particularly enjoyed being on the National Judicial Accountability Commission hearing, the triple talaq one and the one where he ruled on major changes in the way “cooperative institutions” function.