Saurabh Kirpal is an Indian senior advocate, LGBTQ+ activist, and author of a book, who often remains in news for openly embracing his homosexuality and standing up for it. In November 2021, for the first time in the country, the openly-gay senior advocate was considered for the appointment as a judge at the Delhi High Court by the Supreme Court Collegium. An alumnus of the Cambridge University and Oxford University, Kirpal is believed to have an impressive resume consisting of countless landmark cases.
Saurabh Kirpal was born on Tuesday, 18 April 1972 (age 50 years; as of 2022) in Delhi. His zodiac sign is Aries. A graduate in Physics majors from Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College, Saurabh went to England to earn an undergraduate degree in law from the University of Oxford. He further pursued a master of laws degree at the University of Cambridge.
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
Saurabh comes from a family of lawyers.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Bhupinder Nath Kirpal, was the 31st Chief Justice of India who served at the position from May 2002 until his retirement in November 2002. Saurabh’s mother’s name is Aruna Kirpal, and he has two siblings.
Wife & Children
Saurabh is unmarried and has no children.
Saurabh identifies himself as gay. In an interview, when he was asked about his coming out story, he said,
I discovered my sexuality at a very early age… It took me some time to come to terms with my own sexuality. Once I did, I did not come out to my parents until I was in my mid to late twenties. But coming out to my parents was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was a joyful glorious experience… My father was at the time a judge of the Supreme Court. He said he was surprised to hear it, but he was happy for me and would support me no matter what. My mother said she sort of suspected it but wasn’t really sure. She too would support whatever decisions that I would take.”
Kirpal is in a relationship with his partner of 20 years, Nicolas Germain Bachmann. Nicolas is a European and works at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi. He is also a Swiss human rights activist.
Soon after completing his graduation from Cambridge University, Saurabh had a brief stint with the United Nations in Geneva after which he returned to India in the 1990s and practised at the Supreme Court of India for over two decades. Kirpal’s two-decade-long stint at the apex court helped him specialize in areas of civil, commercial, and constitutional law. The advocate also assisted the former Attorney General and senior Supreme Court lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, which, according to Saurabh, sharpened his abilities as a lawyer and made him proficient in the field.
In October 2017, the media reported that the Delhi High Court Collegium had unanimously recommended Saurabh for the appointment as the permanent judge of the Delhi High Court. The Collegium comprised of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and justices Sanjeev Khanna and Ravindra Bhat. In March 2021, he was appointed as a senior advocate after all 31 judges of the Delhi High Court unanimously supported his elevation. According to reports, such unanimous endorsement was quite uncommon. Eight months later, in November 2021, Saurabh’s name was endorsed for another elevation. The Supreme Court collegium, led by CJI N. V. Ramana, recommended him as a judge to the Delhi High Court and sent his name to the law ministry. The move was a historic decision as Kirpal became the first self-professed gay to be endorsed for such a high rank in the country.
Saurabh has represented litigants in several landmark commercial and constitutional cases before multiple courts in India. He has represented Anil Ambani in a legal battle with his brother and has appeared for Ritu Dalmia and others. Kirpal was also one of the leading lawyers who represented petitioners Sunil Mehra and Navtej Singh Johar in the case of Navtej Singh Johor vs Union of India in which the apex court announced the landmark verdict of decriminalising homosexuality in September 2018. When the LGBTQ+ activist was asked about his views on judgement on Section 377, he said in an interview,
The judgement didn’t seem much as Section 377 only made the act of consensual homosexual sex illegal… Section 377 was only related to consensual gay sex, but since it was a crime it had an impact on other things as well. Legal changes, like the judgement on Section 377, will gradually help bring in social changes. I think history has shown us that around the world positive changes for the LGBTQIA+ community started with the amendment of laws.”
The advocate is also the editor and writer of an anthology titled “Sex and the Supreme Court: How the Law is Upholding the Dignity of the Indian Citizen,” which was published in 2020. The book features a collection of writings by noted personalities of the Indian law fraternity, like Justice B. D. Ahmed, Justice M. B. Lokur, and Justice A. K. Sikri along with advocates including Mukul Rohatgi, Madhavi Divan, Menaka Guruswamy, and Arundhati Katju.
Deferred Appointment For Judgeship
Deferring Kirpal’s recommendation for judgeship three times consecutively garnered nationwide criticism in the law fraternity. In April 2017, after Saurabh consented to get appointed as a judge at the Delhi High Court, Justice Gita Mittal, the then acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, proposed Kirpal’s name for elevation. In the same year, on October 13, for the first time, Saurabh’s name was recommended for elevation by the Supreme Court’s Collegium; however, after 2017, his elevation was stalled when multiple CJIs took over. In another first, the senior advocate’s name was deferred from the recommendation list of judges by SC Collegium in September 2018. The Collegium issued no formal statement for its decision. In January 2019, the Collegium headed by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi again sent Kirpal’s name into limbo after investigation of the material on record and the observations made by the Department of Justice in Saurabh’s file. In the three-member Supreme Court Collegium meeting held on 1 April 2019, which was led by Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde, again no decision was taken on Kirpal’s elevation to the designation of the judge, citing similar reasons. Following the controversy, it was alleged that Kirpal’s recommendation was deferred due to some concerns regarding the nationality of his partner Nicolas Germain Bachmann. Saurabh later acknowledged that probably his sexual orientation was the actual reason behind deferring his elevation. He said in an interview,
Media reports seemed to indicate the issue might have been the nationality of my partner who is Swiss. Had I been a straight man with a foreign spouse, this would not have been an issue; former Supreme Court judges have had foreign spouses. But it became an issue only because I am not.”
While upholding the recommendation for his appointment as Delhi High Court judge, the Supreme Court Collegium, on 19 January 2023, said that the government cannot assume that Mr. Kirpal’s Swiss partner was anti-India; moreover, the collegium found Mr. Kirpal as an asset to the Bench.
- Saurabh enjoys drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Kirpal’s passions besides work include reading and music. He loves listening to Indian classical music and prefers reading non-fiction books, particularly on the social sciences and philosophy. According to Saurabh, his favourite book is Cosmos by Carl Sagan.
- The senior advocate revealed in a conversation that he wanted to become an astronaut while growing up, and he loved studying science and astronomy, which steered him towards physics majors.
- Saurabh revealed in an interview that, initially, he was unsure of pursuing law at Oxford University as he could not afford it, but later he went ahead after securing a scholarship. He added,
I had planned to read law at Delhi University, but I felt that I needed to expand my horizons and experience life outside India, even if I was never going to permanently settle there. I applied to Oxford to read law and while I obtained admission there, I was not very sure whether I could go. I was dependent on being able to secure a scholarship, which I was fortunate enough to get. That’s how I managed to read law at a university.
- He considers his father, the former Chief Justice of India, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi as his mentors.
- Saurabh is also a trustee of the Naz Foundation Trust, a Delhi-based NGO that fought for the decriminalization of homosexuality in India, from the front.