Annual Lecture 2008: Introductory Address
The Honourable the Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we are honoured to have with us Justice K G Balakrishnan, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, to deliver the 15th Singapore Academy of Law Annual Lecture.

CJ Balakrishnan was born in Kerala, India in 1945. After acquiring his Degree in Law in 1967, he completed his LL.M in Contract and Mercantile Law in Kerala University. He was enrolled as an Advocate in the Kerala Bar Council in March 1968. His appearances as junior counsel centred on civil, criminal and constitutional cases. In September 1985, he was appointed Additional Judge of the Kerala High Court and was elevated to Permanent Judge the following year. In 1997, he was transferred to the Gujarat High Court and appointed its Chief Justice in 1998.  In that year, he also served as the Acting Governor of the State of Gujarat.

In September 1999, he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court and elevated to the Supreme Court of India in 2000. On 14 January 2007, he was appointed Chief Justice of India, a position he occupies till this day. There was a great sense of pride among many Indians, and, in particular, the people of Kerala at his appointment. His is a textbook case of someone from a humble background who has reached the highest judicial office in India. He has since received three honorary degrees of Doctors of Laws: the first from Kurukshetra University, the second, from Bangalore University and the third from Kerala University. He is also an Honorary Bencher of the Society of Lincoln’s Inn.

Since becoming the Chief Justice, Justice Balakrishnan has been involved in several landmark decisions in public interest litigation as well as in constitutional and criminal law litigation and can therefore give us a unique insight into the development of these areas of law in India. However, this evening, CJ Balakrishnan will speak on the growth of public interest litigation in India in recent years. This development marks a significant and innovative shift from the focus of traditional judicial proceedings. Centred on the constitutional principle of equality, public interest litigation has given the underprivileged strata of Indian society quick and easy access to justice with respect to their economic and social rights.

If I may venture to say, the dynamism of the Supreme Court of India in this area of adjudication is without parallel in the common law world, perhaps in all democracies.

We are indeed privileged to receive a first-hand account of the development of public interest litigation in India from CJ Balakrishnan this evening. We will all go away with valuable insights into judicial creativity and innovation in the administration of justice in situations when other state institutions are seen to be inadequate in providing social justice affecting a large section of the population, especially the poor and the underprivileged.

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Justice Balakrishnan, Chief Justice of India.