He is the seventh Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission. Born on the 3rd December, 1950 in Chikamagaluru district of Karnataka, Justice Dattu, after completing his early education in Kadur, Tarikere and Birur, moved to Bengaluru to pursue his higher studies.
He appeared as a Government Counsel in the Karnataka High Court for the sales tax department from 1983 to 1990. He was the state government's advocate from 1990 to 1993, the standing counsel of the Income Tax Department from 1992 to 1993 and a Senior standing counsel for the same department from 1993 to 1995.
He was appointed as a Judge of the Karnataka High Court on December 18, 1995 and elevated as the Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court on the February 12, 2007. On May 18, 2007, he was transferred to head the Kerala High Court.
He was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on the December 17, 2008. On September 28, 2014, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of India and retired on December 2, 2015.
Justice Dattu has been associated with several significant judgments. He was on the bench that expanded the Indian jurisprudence on death sentence cases by commuting the death penalty of terror convict Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar to life term over mental illness and an inordinate delay in deciding his mercy plea by the government.
Justice Dattu also headed the bench that acquitted 11 persons charged under terror laws telling the Gujarat police that no innocent person should be branded a terrorist and put behind bars simply because he belongs to a minority community. The bench said Police must ensure that no innocent person has the feeling of sufferance only because "my name is Khan, but I am not a terrorist".
Justice Dattu pronounced a landmark verdict giving a ruling that "bail is the rule and jail an exception" while granting bail to five big corporate in the 2G case. Authoring this verdict along with Justice G. S. Singhvi on the bench, he said: "The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty."
Upholding the freedom of press, Justice Dattu quashed an Allahabad High Court order, directing the Centre to prohibit media from reporting on the controversial troop movements near the national capital in 2012.
Left in cold storage for quite some time, the black money case hit the headlines again as Justice Dattu rejected the UPA government's plea and started hearing the case. He ordered immediate constitution of the Special Investigation Team, ordered by the Apex Court way back in 2011.
He was on the Constitution Bench that declared as "unconstitutional" a law enacted by Kerala to restrict water level in the Mullaperiyar dam to 136 feet, while protecting the legal right of Tamil Nadu.