Sarosh Homi Kapadia
Profile: Chief Justice of India. In his long legal career, he has served as a lawyer at Bombay Bar, a Bombay High Court Judge, a Special Court Judge, Uttaranchal Chief Justice, Judge Supreme Court
- He is one of the finest judges and administrators
- He has redefined judgeship
A judge, by virtue of his chosen profession, chooses to become an ascetic, distant from the society he lives in, yet immersed in it so deep that he is confronted with the rawness of its existential struggle every day. Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia is a person who understands it too well.
“A judge must inevitably choose to be a little aloof and isolated from the community at large. He should not be in contact with lawyers, individuals or political parties, their leaders or ministers unless it be on purely social occasions,’’ Kapadia said while delivering the MC Setalvad Memorial lecture on Judicial ethics in April 2011.
Since taking over as the Chief Justice on May 12, 2010, Kapadia has worked tirelessly to restore the diminishing dignity and credibility of the Supreme Court as the final forum for justice seekers. With a single stroke of the pen, he stopped reckless mining in Bellary. He disqualified the crucial appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) reminding the prime minister and his government that processes must stand the test of integrity. In the Vodafone case, Kapadia pointed out that laws are not open to unduly liberal interpretations. A corporate lawyer said that the Vodafone judgement reinforced to the world the independence of the country’s judiciary. In a few days a Constitution Bench headed by Kapadia will decide on the Presidential Reference made to it after the SC quashed 122 telecom licences and asked the government to conduct auctions to allocate natural resources. He is also expected to frame guidelines for the media on reporting on matters that are being heard in court.
Chief Justice Kapadia will be remembered for some of the landmark judgements he delivered. And the way he lived as a judge will never be forgotten. It can only be called exemplary. In a now famous and widely quoted letter that he wrote to former Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Kapadia said: “I come from a poor family. I started my career as a class IV employee and the only asset I possess is integrity…’’
The destiny of Sarosh Homi Kapadia was uncertain when he was born on September 29, 1947 in a nation that came into existence barely six weeks before him. Not many people in the world who watched the birth of India gave it a chance as a democracy. The odds were stacked against Kapadia at birth because unlike the illustrious Parsis of Bombay, his father had grown up in a Surat orphanage and had worked as a lowly defense clerk. His mother Katy was a homemaker. The family could barely make ends meet but that did not weaken their robust values.
“My father taught me not to accept obligations from anyone, and my mother taught me the ethical morality of life,’’ Kapadia recalled at a Bombay Parsi Panchayet felicitation when he became CJI. Young Sarosh, however, had decided that he would make his own destiny. He wanted to become a judge and nothing else.
At the felicitation, Panchayet trustee Khojeste Mistree talked about his student days. Kapadia would walk down Narayan Dhabolkar Road in Mumbai, past the Rocky Hill flats, where a number of judges lived, and dream that one day he would progress from being an advocate to becoming a judge and have the honour of living in those very same salubrious surroundings, Parsi Khabar, an online community web site, reported Mistree as saying. Many years later, when Kapadia became a judge at the Bombay High Court, he always sat in court room number three on the ground floor, which perplexed many because as judges rose in seniority they also moved up the courthouse building. Kapadia revealed the reason why he was fond of the room when he was invited to tea at the Bar just before taking over as the Chief Justice of the Uttaranchal High Court in 2003. Early in his career as a low-grade employee, he used to end up at the Fountain area near the court for work. He didn’t have anywhere to go to spend his lunch break. For three years lunch often used to be a small cone of roasted chana (gram) and courtroom number three was the place to relax because it let in good breeze. A lawyer in Mumbai who was present says that Kapadia recalled how his interest in law was fuelled by the sessions in that courtroom.
Kapadia began his career as a grade four employee with Behramjee Jeejeebhoy where his main job was to deliver case briefs to lawyers. Behramjee Jeejeebhoy was the owner of seven villages in Bombay and had a lot of land revenue as well as a number of land-related disputes to settle. Those cases were handled by Gagrat and Company where a young lawyer, Ratnakar D Sulakhe, used to work.
“Sarosh used to come very regularly to our offices. That is how I first met him. He had a keen interest in law and I encouraged him to take it up,’’ remembers Sulakhe, who is now legal consultant with the Godrej group. Kapadia studied law and enrolled at the bar. By that time he had a keen grasp of issues related to land and revenue and began taking up such cases. As a junior lawyer, he quickly gained a reputation for his preparation and ability to cite authority while arguing. Kapadia then joined Feroze Damania, a feisty labour lawyer reputed to be partial to poor and marginalised people.
In 1982, Kapadia argued a case for people living in Ghatkopar, a suburb in Mumbai. The area was formerly salt pans and fell under the control of the Salt Commissioner. The commissioner had ordered summary eviction of about 3,000 tenements. Kapadia fought the case which resulted in a landmark judgement laying down the principle that governments cannot invoke summary eviction laws to throw out people when there is a genuine dispute on the title. “It was not about money. He was genuinely interested in the welfare of marginalised people,’’ a colleague who worked with him at Damania’s offices told Forbes India. He did not wish to be named.
The colleague says, at the time Kapadia became interested in Buddhist and Hindu philosophies, especially in the teachings of Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Later he became a frequent visitor to Belur Math on the banks of the Hoogly in Kolkata. A monk at the Math says he learnt meditation techniques. He has read everything about Ramakrishna and also what Swami Vivekananda wrote. Kapadia’s worldview is highly influenced by Indian thinkers but is also tempered by the observed realities of the modern world. It has also shaped his thinking as a judge who believes in continuous learning.
“What we need today in India as far as the judges are concerned is a scholastic living,” Kapadia said in December 2008. Delivering the JK Mathur memorial lecture in Lucknow, Kapadia went on to define the context of modern day justice and the legal profession. In that speech he said how important it was for judges to understand the various concepts in different fields, including economics and accountancy. Kapadia himself is a qualified accountant and has vast knowledge of economics. That came in handy in a case where Orissa’s tribals were pitted against a miner.
There were no jobs, hospitals or schools in the area the company wanted to mine. Kapadia analysed the accounts of the company to find out whether it could set aside a portion of profits for tribals’ welfare. He dissected the accounts segment-wise to discover a profit of about Rs 500 crore when without the standard of accounting the profit would be only Rs 15 crore.
“A judge sitting in tax matters knows the accounting standards. It helps us to decide matters in the context of socio-economic justice enshrined in the Constitution… This is where I emphasise the knowledge of the basic concepts.’’
A Mumbai lawyer who knows him from the time Kapadia was a lawyer and later judge, says that he has evolved into a complete jurist. Yet, the Chief Justice has not stopped learning.
In July 2011, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in a case involving limestone mining in Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills by Franco-Spanish cement company Lafarge Umiam Mining. Almost a year-and-a-half before that, the company had been asked to stop mining by a Bench headed by Justice KG Balakrishnan. When the hearing resumed, Justice Balakrishnan had retired and Kapadia was presiding on the three-judge bench.
As Harish Salve began to argue for Lafarge, Kapadia realised that he did not know enough background. So he asked the senior lawyer to brief the court on the history of environmental jurisprudence. A stumped Salve said that would be like reading a textbook. To which Kapadia replied that he was a Bombay man who understood very little about environmental matters and would Salve not help the court? Every Friday for the next seven weeks the cavernous courtroom turned into a classroom where Salve elaborated on the evolution of environmental jurisprudence in India.
There are two qualities of Justice Kapadia that no one disputes— integrity and compassion.
“His humble beginnings are reflected in his outlook and judgements,’’ says senior lawyer Soli Sorabjee. “A litigant may feel disappointed if he loses the case but no litigant goes back [from Kapadia’s court] feeling he was not fairly or fully heard.’’
In his pursuit of flawless integrity, Kapadia has hermetically sealed himself. He even said in a speech that judges and lawyers should work like a horse and live like a hermit. When Forbes India sought to interview him for this profile, the CJ’s office said the strict code of conduct binding Supreme Court judges does not allow him to agree. Kapadia’s personal code of conduct is more severe. Retired Justice VR Krishna Iyer told Forbes India that he had gathered from his colleagues that he was too dignified to even meet other judges, rarely meets anybody at random and when he speaks he is taciturn.
Kapadia does not accept even official invitations if they fall on a working day. He once rejected an invitation to represent India at a conference of the Commonwealth Law Association in Hyderabad because it fell on a working day. On the first day in office as CJI, he cleared 39 matters in half an hour. Kapadia has practically dedicated his life to the profession, rarely taking holidays even.
During the first summer holidays after he became chief justice, Kapadia is said to have come to office everyday to streamline the SC registry.
According to several lawyers, the registry had deteriorated into a corrupt office where ‘bench hunting’ was common. Bench hunting is gaming the allocation process to make sure that a certain matter appears before a certain judge who the lawyer thinks will rule in a particular way. Kapadia has put an end to it and is now said to review the day’s board of case listings and pull up the SC staff if he finds something amiss. The CJ has also stopped out-of-turn mentioning of cases to be taken up urgently, which has caused some consternation among lawyers. Earlier, lawyers could request the judge while the court was in session to take up an unlisted matter because it was urgent. Now they have to file an urgency petition a day in advance. The system exists because there is a mountain of pending cases in the judicial system. And since the SC is the final authority, it gets overburdened. “It will not be long before we have a 100 judges in the SC,’’ says a lawyer. The SC currently has 30 judges, excluding the CJI. The Indian justice system had drawn a lot of flak over the past few years after the integrity of several past and sitting judges was questioned. But Kapadia defended the system in his Law Day speech last November.
“I am an optimist. I do not share the impression that judicial system has collapsed or is fast collapsing. I strongly believe and maintain that with all the drawbacks and limitations with shortage of resources and capacity, we still have a time-tested system,’’ he said. He also said that the backlog of cases is not as huge as is made out to be. “Seventy-four percent of the cases are less than five years old,’’ he said and added that the focus is on quickly disposing of the rest of the cases.
Kapadia has certainly restored the confidence and pride in the Supreme Court of India.
“He will certainly be remembered for the landmark Vodafone decision,’’ says Percy Billimoria, senior partner at corporate law firm AZB and Partners. “Whenever anyone complains about the retrospective amendment of the tax law on this issue, I always retort by reminding them that the fact that the decision held that the government’s stand on a matter with such far reaching revenue implications was contrary to the law at the time shows that at least our judiciary is fair and independent.’’
By the time Kapadia hangs up his cloak and collar on September 29, he would have left an indelible mark on India’s judicial history. Former Justice VR Krishna Iyer told Forbes India: “While I have seen during the last 97 years of my life among good judges with great credentials, there was hardly anyone to compare with Kapadia the like of which no eye had seen, no heart conceived and no human tongue can adequately tell.’’
A commission to select judges will be an improvement on the collegium only if its members are of the highest standing
The Constitution of India operates in happy harmony with the instrumentalities of the executive and the legislature. But to be truly great, the judiciary exercising democratic power must enjoy independence of a high order. But independence could become dangerous and undemocratic unless there is a constitutional discipline with rules of good conduct and accountability: without these, the robes may prove arrogant.
It is in this context that Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia’s observations, at an event at the Supreme Court of India on Independence Day, underlining the need for the government to balance judicial accountability with judicial independence, have to be reconciled with what Law Minister Salman Khurshid observed about judicial propriety. It is this reconciliation of the trinity of instrumentality in their functionalism that does justice to the Constitution. A great and grand chapter on judicial sublime behaviour to forbid the “robes” becoming unruly or rude and to remain ever sober is obligatory.
The Constitution has three instrumentalities — executive, legislative and judicative. The implementation of the state’s laws and policies is the responsibility of the executive. The Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister at the Centre and the Cabinet led by the Chief Minister in the States, are its principal agencies. The rule of law governs the administration.
Parliament consisting of two Houses and legislatures at the State level make law. When the executive and the legislature do anything that is arbitrary, or contrary to the constitutional provisions, the judiciary has the power to correct them by issuing directions under Article 143. The Constitution lays down the fundamental rights, and if the States do not safeguard them, any citizen can approach the Supreme Court for the issue of a writ to defend his or her fundamental rights.
Thus, among the three instrumentalities, the judiciary has pre-eminence. But the judiciary itself has to act according to the Constitution and work within the framework of the Constitution.
Felix Frankfurter pointed out thus: “Judges as persons, or courts as institutions, are entitled to no greater immunity from criticism than other persons or institutions. Just because the holders of judicial office are identified with the interests of justice they may forget their common human frailties and fallibilities. There have sometimes been martinets upon the bench as there have also been pompous wielders of authority who have used the paraphernalia of power in support of what they called their dignity. Therefore judges must be kept mindful of their limitations and of their ultimate public responsibility by a vigorous stream of criticism expressed with candor however blunt.”
Judges are the ultimate authority in the interpretation of the Constitution, and so must be learned in the law and in the cultural wealth of the world. They play a vital role in the working of the Constitution and the laws. But how judges are appointed is a matter of concern. Simply put, the President appoints them, but in this the President only carries out the Cabinet’s decisions.
The Preamble to the Constitution lays down as the fundamentals of the paramount law that India shall be a socialist, secular democratic republic which shall enforce justice — social, economic and political — and ensure liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and promote among them fraternity, ensuring the individual’s dignity and the nation’s unity and integrity.
Need for clarity
But who will select the judges, and ascertain their qualifications and class character? Unless there is a clear statement of the principles of selection, the required character and conduct of judges in a democracy may fail since they will often belong to a class of the proprietariat, and the proletariat will have no voice in the governance: the proprietariat will remain the ruling class.
Winston Churchill made this position clear with respect to Britain thus: “The courts hold justly a high, and I think, unequalled pre-eminence in the respect of the world in criminal cases, and in civil cases between man and man, no doubt, they deserve and command the respect and admiration of all classes of the community, but where class issues are involved, it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence. On the contrary, they do not, and a very large number of our population have been led to the opinion that they are, unconsciously, no doubt, biased.”
We in India have under the Constitution the same weaknesses pointed out by Churchill, with the result that socialism and social justice remain a promise on paper. Then came a new creation called collegiums. The concept was brought in by a narrow majority of one in a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court for the selection of judges. It was binding on the executive, the decisions of which in turn were bound to be implemented by the President.
Thus, today we have a curious creation with no backing under the Constitution, except a ruling of the Supreme Court, and that too based on a very thin majority in a single ruling. Today, the collegium on its own makes the selection. There is no structure to hear the public in the process of selection. No principle is laid down, no investigation is made, and a sort of anarchy prevails.
In a minimal sense, the selection of judges of the highest court is done in an unprincipled manner, without investigation or study of the class character by the members of the collegium. There has been criticism of the judges so selected, but the collegium is not answerable to anyone.
In these circumstances, the Union Law Minister has stated that the government proposes to change the collegium system and substitute it with a commission. But, how should the commission be constituted? To whom will it be answerable? What are the guiding principles to be followed by the Commission? These issues remain to be publicly discussed. A constitutional amendment, with a special chapter of the judiciary, is needed. Such an amendment can come about only through parliamentary action.
Surely a commission to select judges for the Supreme Court has to be of high standing. It must be of the highest order, of a status equal to that of the Prime Minister or a Supreme Court judge. The commission’s chairman should be the Chief Justice of India.
In the process of selection, an investigation into the character, class bias, communal leanings and any other imputations that members of the public may make, may have to be investigated. This has to be done not by the police, which function under the government, but by an independent secret investigation agency functioning under the commission’s control. These and other views expressed by outstanding critics may have to be considered.
The commission has to be totally independent and its ideology should be broadly in accord with the values of the Constitution. It should naturally uphold the sovereignty of the Constitution beyond pressures from political parties and powerful corporations, and be prepared to act without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. It should act independently — such should be its composition and operation. The commission should be immune to legal proceedings, civil and criminal. It should be removed only by a high tribunal consisting of the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of all the High Courts sitting together and deciding on any charges publicly made. We, the people of India, should have a free expression in the commission’s process.
(V.R. Krishna Iyer, eminent jurist, is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India)
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- A PIL in Feb alleged that CJI Kapadia had a conflict of interest in the Vodafone tax case. It was dismissed; a penalty was imposed.
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Over the last couple of days, two pillars of democracy have decided that the media must be kept on a leash. First, the Lok Sabha secretariat declared that the media would not be allowed in the vicinity of parliamentary standing and joint committee meetings. Reporters usually hang about for informal briefings from MP acquaintances—it’s the life-breath of in-depth coverage of Parliament. Media professionals wonder if the unprecedented order is timed to prevent reporting on the three defence chiefs’ appearance before a parliamentary committee, slated for April 20. Second, the Allahabad High Court prohibited the media from writing or reporting further on the sensational news of troop movements towards Delhi on Jan 16-17. The Union i&b ministry followed up with an advisory seeking strict adherence to the court order. The two restrictions come even as the Supreme Court is mulling guidelines for law reporters covering it.
So, is this the system recoiling at all those big news stories of scams and criminal investigations that have come out recently? Media professionals feel these ‘guidelines’ would end up stifling them. The bigger fear is that, when institutions like the Supreme Court and the Lok Sabha start writing rulebooks for the media, they might prompt others—say the bureaucracy and the police—to do so too. The cascading effect could shrink the space of reporting in the same proportion as RTI added to it.
It was in the backdrop of an information explosion triggered by television channels, where opinions were sought and decisions arrived at swiftly, that the Law Commission finalised its 2006 report, ‘Trial by Media’, framing guidelines for reporting on criminal proceedings in court. The report makes a case for not covering a trial till it is concluded. It is learnt the Centre is in active consultation with the states on the commission’s report.
As the five-judge constitution bench under the Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, engages in a threadbare discussion on the media with advocates of freedom of the press and others, it is perhaps time to ask, as indeed the court is doing, whether guidelines regulating the media are required at all. In fact, is there any reason to suppose that media coverage has led to miscarriage of justice. And have existing guidelines failed? Linked to both questions is the public’s right to know and be informed.
Already, there are quite a few guidelines to begin with. There’s the Press Council Act of 1979, though its powers could be debated. Presided over by a retired judge and with journalists and newspapers’ representatives on the board, the council has the power to censure, warn and admonish the press if it fails to adhere to the guidelines. Its present head, Justice Markandeya Katju, has called the Allahabad High Court’s gag order “not correct” and said that “the media has a fundamental right to make such a publication, as it did not endanger national security”.
Then, there’s the News Broadcasting Authority of India (NBA), a self-regulatory body of broadcasters with academics, eminent persons and a former CJI on its rolls. It has a detailed programme code, advocates voluntary adherence and imposes penalties. After the 28/11 attack on Mumbai, it had drawn up rules for reportage by the electronic media.
In his capacity as chairperson of NBA, which is a party to the SC’s deliberations guidelines for the media, former CJI J.S. Verma says, “I feel that, as there are already guidelines drawn up by the channels themselves, the bench in my view could suggest modifications if it so wished. In fact, if the judiciary says compliance with existing guidelines is desirable, that itself will have the desired effect.” Verma—who is often openly critical of media reports—thinks peer pressure works better than imposed guidelines.
Other senior lawyers hold the view that the court has no power to make laws. Former SC judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer calls the SC’s attempt to regulate the media a case of judicial overreach. “It’s Parliament that has the right to legislate, not the court.”
Though the chief justice of India has repeatedly clarified that the aim is to regulate, not control, these recent exercises are seen as part of an overall process to control a media that is seen as increasingly critical and combative. The judiciary and the media, which appeared to be working in tandem at one point, now appear to have fallen out.
Does the public have a right to know about how justice is delivered? And if it does, how will that happen if reporters are not permitted to report? Such a move would also run against the open court proceedings our judiciary has adopted till now. There are many who suggest that instead of a broad arc of guidelines, what is required is a case-to-case examination. If an error takes place due to the media, there are adequate grievance redressal structures within the courts in the form of contempt and defamation laws. Moreover, journalists enjoys no special immunities or privileges by law.
Says Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Bhaskar, “I am quite critical of the media, but I feel the Supreme Court is overstepping its brief in wanting to frame guidelines for court reporting as the move creates an impression that the court alone is the upholder of integrity, sovereignty and the national interest. This is unfortunate. It would also appear that court and the media are in direct confrontation with each other.”
Adds Arnab Goswami, head of Time Now, “If everything now becomes a matter of litigation, there will be nothing to report on. What will we report on?”
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Don’t embark on a futile exercise, Shanti Bhushan tells Supreme Court Constitution Bench
The Press Council of India (PCI) on Tuesday suggested that the Supreme Court frame guidelines for the media as these would be in the interest of not only administration of justice and rights of the litigant public but also the media themselves.
“The media, both print and electronic, have been playing an important role in shaping and sustaining Indian democracy,” senior counsel P.P. Rao, appearing for the PCI, told a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia. “The scheme of the Press Council Act itself shows that the intention of Parliament is to allow self-regulation by the media as far as possible. While the print media is within the purview of the Press Council Act, the electronic media is not. Therefore, it is desirable to lay down guidelines for both the print and electronic media to follow in reporting court proceedings, rather than making statutory rules.”
Mr. Rao told the Bench, which included Justices D.K. Jain, S.S. Nijjar, Ranjana Desai and J.S. Khehar, that the court, while framing the guidelines, might take into consideration the relevant norms of journalistic conduct laid down by the PCI. Explaining the powers of the PCI, counsel said: “Section 14(1) of the Press Council Act confers on the Council power to warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, news agency, the editor and the journalist or disapprove [of] the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be, after holding an enquiry into the complaints. The Council, which is presided over by a retired judge of this court and in which editors, working journalists and managements of big, medium and small newspapers are represented, has laid down Norms of Journalistic Conduct. Self-regulation is always better than statutory regulation. However, when any TV channel, newspaper or news agency fails to adhere to the guidelines laid down by this court, appropriate orders may be passed in the facts and circumstances of each case.”
The former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, appearing for some journalists, asked the CJI to dissolve the Constitution Bench hearing the present case, saying it would be a futile exercise. He cited an instance of the former CJI, Justice A.N. Ray, dissolving a 13-judge Bench after he found no support for his case. Mr. Bhushan was referring to a move by Justice Ray, who set up the 13-judge Bench to reconsider the Kesavananda Bharti judgment in which the court had held that Parliament had no right to amend the basic structure of the Constitution.
Mr. Bhushan asked the Bench not to embark on a futile exercise which would be detrimental to the rights of the press and destroy democracy in this country. “No purpose will be solved by going through this exercise.”
Taking the Anna Hazare argument, he argued that people were sovereign in India. “That is the reason why even the right to freedom of press was not absolute in this country. It was instead left to Parliament to lay down reasonable restrictions on this freedom. All institutions in our democracy are people’s institutions. Even the judiciary is accountable to the people. People have a right to know what is happening.”
Senior counsel Anil Divan, appearing for the Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, commenced his arguments, pointing out the anomaly of the court deciding to lay down guidelines which in this case would “abridge” the freedoms of individuals instead of “protecting” them or “disciplining” officials. Mr. Divan cited the ‘Visakha judgment,’ saying that in that case the court was only seeking to protect fundamental rights of citizens. But in this case the Bench was embarking on a quasi-legislative exercise as once the court framed guidelines they would become immune from judicial review. “I will have no remedy. But tomorrow, if Parliament were to adopt these guidelines, the person aggrieved will have a remedy. I can challenge them before you.”
Mr. Divan said the exercise undertaken by the court was not prudent in view of globalisation of information dissemination technology. “If the guidelines will be coercive or binding in nature, then it is covered by the legislative process.”
The CJI intervened, and said: “The deliberations on the guidelines were not a result of adversarial litigation. We are only trying to regulate the media to the extent that the rights of person in criminal cases are protected under Article 21 [Right to life and liberty] of the Constitution.”
The CJI asked Mr. Divan to address the question whether the rights of the press could be balanced to ensure administration of justice and protect the rights of the accused to ensure a free trial in a criminal case.
Arguments will continue on Wednesday.
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Come Tuesday, the Supreme Court will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters. How the hearings play out affects both reporters and you, the citizen
Picture this: After months of waiting, your property dispute or society imbroglio finally comes up for hearing. Enter the court reporter — seeing his presence in the court causes a palpable impact on the behaviour of lawyers and judges alike. However, if the Supreme Court of India has its way this Tuesday, court reporters across India will now have to follow guidelines on how to report matters of their beat. The court will be hearing interventions in the matter of ‘framing of guidelines for reporting of cases in media.’
The guidelines the Supreme Court frames potentially impact coverage of all courts in India. In 2007, the SC had also framed a similar set of norms for accreditation of legal correspondents covering the apex court, which, among other things, insisted that journalists have a law degree, and a certain amount of experience. On March 20, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia took up the issue of framing guidelines for the media to report cases in courts. The setting up of the Constitution Bench by the CJI comes in the wake of misreporting of court hearings and leaking of confidential information affecting litigants.
Veteran journalist and columnist MJ Antony considered the impact the move would have on the freedom of the press. “If a report is found to have been in violation of the guidelines, are we going to scrutinise individual paragraphs to prove it? Who will be held liable for the mistake? What is the punishment and what is the remedy?” Besides, he points out that all media organisations have their own code of conduct, besides which exist bodies like the National Broadcast Association and the Press Council of India. Advocate Madhavi Divan, author of Facets of Media Law, a commentary on aspects of media law and its regulation emphasised that the ‘open justice system’ must not be forgotten. “Traditionally, any member of the public could come in and watch court proceedings. The logic of this has been that the public should be allowed to understand the administration of justice. As they say, ‘justice must seem to be done’.”
But she adds that the media is in a slightly different position. “Unlike the American Constitution, ours confers no special status to the press beyond ‘freedom of speech and expression‘, but the media still remains a trustee. The public relies on the media for responsible dissemination of news, and this must be taken into account. As long as the guidelines do not unreasonably restrict the freedom of speech and expression, the media cannot protest.” Welcoming the move, court reporter-turned-advocate Rajiv Wagh said, “Reporting court proceedings is quite different from covering politics or crime. One does not need technical knowledge to cover those subjects. Some training imparted by news organisations would be helpful. The court itself could also consider running short training programs specifically for court reporters.”
To some extent, adds Antony, the media can correct its own mistakes. “If a doctor makes a mistake, the patient may die. If a structural engineer makes a mistake, a building might collapse. But if a newspaper makes a mistake, it can issue a clarification and rectify it.”
The biggest problem, say journalists, is the lack of a proper channel to dispense information from courts in real-time. Many orders and judgements are uploaded on the Internet, but that is often too late for reporters to make a good story of. Reporters must also be familiar with the laws of contempt, in order to safeguard their interests and yet manage to break stories.
Motive and Intent
Above all, added Wagh, your motives should be clear. “You can tell from a report when a story is motivated. When your motives are clear and your only intent is to get the truth out, you will rarely get into trouble.” There is also an urgent need to implement a system of cross-verifying what a reporter hears in court. Divan said, “There has been talk of implementing video recording, which would go a long way in preventing inaccuracies. Abroad, every word uttered in court is recorded in writing, so the question of misreporting doesn’t arise.”
Concluded Divan, “It is unfortunate that the courts have had to step in; it should not have come to this. The media ought to have regulated itself from the outset.”
Our judiciary creaking under the seemingly impossible load of cases awaiting disposal needs urgent attention if we have to avoid collapse of the system, which could put in jeopardy the whole state of orderly society.
Law courts no longer inspire public confidence, as litigants only get increasingly distant dates for their next hearings each time they approach them. The proverb “justice delayed is justice denied” too seems inadequate to describe the prevailing circumstances. Judgments come after endless wait, which ensures there is rarely any sense of satisfaction or justice. As pending cases pile up, the judicial system is not in a position to meet the challenge of arrears that have swamped courts from top to bottom.
According to the latest statistics available from the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases, the apex court has now run up a backlog of 56,383 cases — the highest figure in a decade. The situation is similar in the country’s 21 high courts, where 42,17,903 cases are awaiting disposal. In lower judiciary, which constitutes the base of the entire judicial pyramid, the total number of such cases stood at 2,79,53,070 at the end of March 2011. And these figures do not include the cases pending in various tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies. If those were also added to the grand total, the arrears in lower courts would well cross the figure of 3 crore, which is alarming, to say the least.
The right to fair and speedy trial holds little promise for the aggrieved who knock at the door of courts as a last resort for justice or relief. Invoking the law seems to mean only wasted years, heavy financial burden, besides emotional and physical trauma. Prolonged delays also mean high rate of acquittal in criminal cases — it is as high as 93.02 per cent in India. Unable to get justice from courts, victims often take the law into their own hands to settle scores with culprits. This only multiplies the problem of law and order, and in turn the load on courts. It has also encouraged kangaroo courts in the form of khap panchayats or lynch mobs in many parts of the country, which mete out rough-and-ready justice on the spot. The painfully slow justice delivery system also leads to corruption and lack of investment in vital economic spheres owing to uncertain contract enforcement, higher transaction costs and general inflationary bias, which the finance minister has also acknowledged.
TOO FEW JUDGES
Among other issues, inadequate judge strength at all levels is the main factor behind the delay and the resultant backlog. In proportion to its population, India has the lowest number of judges among the major democracies of the world. There are 13.05 judges per 1 million people, as against Australia’s 58 per million, Canada’s 75, the UK 100, and the USA 130 per million. In 2002, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to raise the judge-population ratio to 50 per million in a phased manner, as recommended by the Law Commission in its 120th report. The suggestion has had little effect.
Even the existing judge strength is reduced further when judicial vacancies are not filled promptly. For instance, the Supreme Court had only 26 judges in October last year, including the Chief Justice of India, against the sanctioned strength of 31. The vacancy level in the 21 high courts of the country, if put together, is 32 per cent, with 291 posts of judge — against the sanctioned strength of 895 — lying vacant for a long time.
In subordinate courts, where we have the maximum backlog of cases, there are 3,170 posts vacant. The sanctioned strength of district judges has gone up to 17,151, according to the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases. Filling these vacancies will have a direct impact on India’s governance indicators, improving investor sentiment and advancing economic growth.
If we look into the World Bank Institute‘s Governance Matters set of indicators specifically for rule of law, India had a percentile rank of 54.5 in 2010 (coming down from 60.3 in 2000), which compares ill to 97.2 for the Netherlands, 91.5 for the US, and 81 for South Korea. Other World Bank documents, quoting market analysts, say that it is not unusual for the first hearing in Indian courts to take six years, and the final decision up to 20 years.
SPEED UP SELECTION
The power of appointment to top judicial posts is vested in a collegium of senior judges, with the executive virtually playing second fiddle. Apart from being opaque, the system has simply failed to deliver. It is not uncommon for higher courts to remain without their full strength for months, or even more. The selection process, therefore, ought to be speeded up. Whenever a vacancy is expected to arise, steps should be initiated well in advance and the process of appointment completed beforehand. In the case of resignation or death, the selection process should come into play without delay to ensure that the Benches work with full strength. And, if the wholesome principle of merit, enunciated by the Law Commission, is accepted in principle, there is no reason why there should be any delay in determining appointments or filling vacancies.
Also, unless the judiciary is given full financial autonomy, the problem of pendency of cases or non-appointment of judges will persist. Funds are required for creating new posts of judge, increasing the number of courts and providing infrastructure. The judiciary has to petition the Law Ministry each time it needs finances, which are forever hard to come by. Less than 0.3 per cent of the Gross National Product (GNP) — or 0.78 per cent of the total revenue — is spent on the judiciary in India. This, when more than half of the amount is being generated by the judiciary itself through court fees and fines. In the UK, USA and Japan, the expenses on judiciary are between 12 and 15 per cent of the total expenditure.
Together with adequate manpower, it is imperative to simplify and reform the current procedural laws which provide ample scope to obstruct and stultify the legal process. Though of colonial antiquity and Kafkaesque obscurity and cumbersomeness, these laws have somehow survived despite their comicality in today’s eco-friendly and “paperwork unfriendly” times, a sure way to delay disposal of cases. In addition, there are myriad laws and other specious requirements, which have no relevance today, yet are frequently invoked. These must be repealed to expedite the judicial process. “Court procedure is not to be a tyrant but a servant, not an obstruction but an aid to justice, a lubricant and not a resistant in the administration of justice,” the Supreme Court has observed. After all, procedures are meant to help the law, not defeat it.
Impelled by the motivation of pecuniary gains, lawyers often indulge in unethical practices of stalling court proceedings deliberately. At every stage, a number of interlocutory applications are filed and adjournments on flimsy grounds sought to defeat the purpose of speedy dispensation of justice. Such is the situation that even expansion of the judicial machinery will not achieve much until rules about stay orders and adjournments are also changed to prevent lawyers from prolonging litigation. In addition, punitive fines should be imposed on unscrupulous litigants found to be abusing the process of law to discourage unnecessary or frivolous litigation and to make the judiciary self-supporting.
Instead of arguing their cases endlessly, it would be better for lawyers to present their submissions in writing to the judge so that cases could be decided on merit on the basis of documents and written submissions filed by both the parties before the judge, without the fanfare of formal court sessions and personal attendance of petitioners, respondents and lawyers. Direct written representation by the parties, rather than oral arguments spoken in the din and bustle of crowded courtrooms, would also lower the risk of miscarriage of justice. This practice, followed in the US Supreme Court (where oral arguments serve as additions to the obligatory written brief), can be easily adopted in Indian courts. Constitutional and corporate matters have little scope for courtroom histrionics.
Judges also ought to exercise restraint against the temptation of writing lengthy judgments running into several hundred pages, incorporating their social, political, economic and philosophical beliefs. The judge’s time is most precious and is paid for from the taxpayers’ money, and should not be wasted in expounding one’s personal ideologies. Justice, equity and fair play demand that judges are more crisp and precise while writing their judgments rather than rely on lengthy quotes and superfluous observations. They should deliver judgments as early as possible, instead of keeping them reserved for long durations.
AIM FOR CONCILIATION
The legal strategy for modern India should aim at conciliation and not confrontation, in keeping with our tradition of tolerance and mutual accommodation. The focus should be on “conciliatory legal realism”. A judge should not merely sit like an umpire, but participate in the efforts to iron out differences and encourage the parties to arrive at a settlement. This would help reduce the backlog of cases, avoid the multi-tier process and also lead to reconciliation of legal disputes without causing much enmity and bitterness.
However, any attempt at judicial reform, including raising the number and strength of courts, improving the selection process of judges or setting up evening and fast-track courts throughout the country to dispose of cases quickly will fail unless high courts succeed in establishing that they are reliable and just, and instil such confidence in litigants that they forgo the last resort of the apex court, except in rare cases. At the same time, if the trial courts at the grassroots level are also properly strengthened and made effective instruments of justice in the real sense, the cycle of appeal and counter-appeal could be broken and delay reduced. The litigation backlog would then melt like an iceberg in a tropical sea.
The writer is a legal consultant, and advocate at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court
- Govt faces Supreme Court ire over pendency (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Who should judge the judges? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- A case for judicial lockjaw (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- The bench in the Lokpal (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- In action-packed 2011, Supreme Court cleared over 79,000 cases (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- No more leniency to govts in delayed appeals: SC (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘Sensitivity must to defend human rights’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- The Great Lokpal Conspiracy Theory (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Call for women’s quota in judiciary (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
Issue in cognisable offence referred to Constitution Bench
The Supreme Court has referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the question whether the police are duty-bound to register a First Information Report on receipt of a complaint or information of commission of a cognisable offence or there is discretion on their part to order a preliminary probe before that exercise.
A Bench of Justices Dalveeer Bhandari, T.S. Thakur and Dipak Misra referred to Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia a writ petition which raised the important issue: whether it is imperative on the part of the officer in-charge of a police station to register a case under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 or whether he or she has the option or latitude of conducting some sort of preliminary enquiry before registering it. Writing the order, Justice Bhandari said: “We have carefully analysed various judgments delivered by this court in the last several decades. We clearly discern divergent judicial opinions on the main issue.”
The Bench said: “This court also carved out a special category… in the cases of Santosh Kumar and Dr. Suresh Gupta where a preliminary enquiry had been postulated before registering an FIR.”
Counsel for some States also submitted that the CBI Manual “envisages some kind of preliminary enquiry before registering the FIR,” the Bench said. “In view of the divergent opinions in a large number of cases decided by this court, it has become extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law and adjudication by a larger Bench for the benefit of all concerned — the courts, the investigating agencies and the citizens.”
ARGHYA SENGUPTA IN THE HINDU
Judgments should speak for themselves; when judges justify them in public, they run the risk of sounding like politicians.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of America’s most eloquent Supreme Court judges, speaking at an American Law Institute function in 1948, aptly described the infirmity of being unable to speak about one’s judgments publicly, an attendant facet of being a Supreme Court judge, as “judicial lockjaw.” For watchers of the Indian higher judiciary, which has adhered to this principle since its inception, the last fortnight has brought forth a surprising development in this regard. Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, an erudite judge of the Supreme Court of India, who retired recently, has, since leaving office, actively engaged with the media, first in print and then electronically. While a retired judge writing and speaking extra-judicially per se on matters of public importance is a fairly common and welcome phenomenon, his participation in a feisty debate in a leading newspaper on the merits of one of his own judgments, and then agreeing to take part in a television interview whose questions focused solely on two of his controversial judgments, is uncommon. As well as raising questions of individual propriety, it contains possible portents of the slowly changing nature of the Indian higher judiciary.
Justice Ganguly’s rejoinder
Three days after his retirement, Justice Ganguly issued a startling written rejoinder to the criticism by former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee of the 2G judgment, which he had handed down a few days previously. Not only did he defend his judgment, first by assuring Mr. Chatterjee that “the judgment was not delivered either out of temptation or out of any desire to appropriate executive powers” but also positively asserted that “[t]he judgment was rendered in clear discharge of duty by the Court” (The Telegraph, 6 February, 2012). His statements, especially to the extent they clarify and defend his judgment, raise deep questions regarding the proper role of judges in post-retirement public life. This is especially so in Justice Ganguly’s case, as it was followed up with an interview to a private television channel where, despite steadfastly refusing to comment on the merits of the 2G judgment or the judgment relating to sanctions for prosecution per se, his statements on the subject had the effect of giving the interviewer and the viewing public sufficient sound bytes on how the judgments ought to be interpreted. To cite a single instance — in response to a question as to whether the timeline set by the Court for the government to consider sanction requests against public servants should apply to the Chief Justice of India when permission is sought for a FIR to be filed against a judge, though he refused to give a direct answer, he suggested that the recommendations made in the judgment “should apply across the board.” To any reasonable viewer, this statement would certainly come across as a clarification on what the recommendations made in the judgment ought to mean.
It is not the legality of Justice Ganguly’s engagement with the media that is in issue here. Like any other citizen, he has a right to speak, and is free to exercise that right in whichever manner he desires, provided it is within the bounds of constitutional permissibility. But when a retired judge speaks, not in his capacity as an ordinary citizen but wearing the hat of a judge who was party to a particular judgment, as Justice Ganguly obviously did, the primary question is one of propriety. That the judge, after rendering judgment, becomes functus officio and the judgment of the Court speaks through itself, is a long established principle in the Indian judicial system. The rationale for the principle is salutary: that the decision of the Court when it is cited as a precedent in subsequent cases as a binding principle of law, ought to be interpreted on its own terms and not on the basis of any extra-judicial clarifications that may be issued subsequently. Of course, any academic discussion and criticism following the judgment may be relevant, but never involving the judge concerned himself, as that may have an unwarranted overriding influence on future interpretations of the decision. At the same time, the principle does not prohibit judges from writing their memoirs, which are often filled with delightful accounts of the unseen dynamics of a judicial decision, or commenting on the consequences of a case after a period of time or on a matter of significant national importance. However, coming so close on the heels of the judgments being delivered, Justice Ganguly’s statements in the media can neither count as an academic commentary nor be justified by a passage of time having elapsed. Propriety thus demanded that he thought better than articulating his views publicly in this manner.
Judge’s role in public
Equally importantly, Justice Ganguly’s actions point to a larger question as to what the role of a judge should be in public life. Unlike politicians or film stars who are public figures by virtue of their closeness to the people, judges are public figures precisely because they manage to keep their distance from the people. It is this detachment which allows judges to be immune from the passions of popular sentiment and political machinations, thereby facilitating the independence of the judiciary as an institution. Any engagement with the media by a judge in a judicial capacity, whether while holding office or post-retirement, fundamentally erodes the extent of this institutional detachment. Especially if the engagement primarily focuses on decisions given by judges, it runs the risk of turning judges into quasi-politicians, clarifying and justifying their judgments by direct appeals to the public, rather than simply allowing the reasons contained in the judgment to perform this justificatory function.
Indeed a comparative analysis across countries shows the links which can be drawn between extra-judicial utterances and the political savvy of judges. In England, where courts are largely apolitical, extra-judicial utterances are rare. Judges, except the Law Lords, were for a long period, conventionally governed by the Kilmuir Principles, key amongst which is the view that “[s]o long as a Judge keeps silent his reputation for wisdom and impartiality remains unassailable.” Though the Principles themselves are no longer strictly applicable, the tradition of extra-judicial silence continues. On the contrary, across the Atlantic, in the United States of America, whose Supreme Court is an overtly political institution, notwithstanding Justice Frankfurter‘s wise advocacy of restraint, judges have a long history of writing and speaking extra-judicially on their own judgments and on the Court itself — Justice Stewart wrote a letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal defending his majority opinion in a racial discrimination case; Justice Goldberg publicly defended the Court and its stance on judicial review and states’ rights in the New York Times; in fact even Chief Justice Marshall, back in the 19th Century, defended his landmark judgment, authoritatively laying down the nature of American federalism in McCulloch v. Maryland, albeit writing under a cleverly disguised pseudonym in the Philadelphia Union.
Sign of transformation
As this comparative experience demonstrates, the judicial propensity to engage directly with the public is clearly a symptom of a Court whose judges are keenly conscious of the immense political significance their decisions have. In this backdrop, Justice Ganguly’s comments, unwarranted as they may have been, perhaps provide an early sign of the subtle transformation of the Supreme Court of India into an overtly political institution, owning up and reacting to the immense political ramifications of its actions. Equally, they raise deep questions regarding the interaction between judges and the media, arguably two of the most powerful pillars in Indian democracy today. This is a complex, multi-dimensional issue that cannot be dealt with here. However it would suffice to say that the obtuse language used by judicial decisions, their unclear consequences and the difficulties faced by sections of the media in understanding the subtleties of legalese, all suggest that like several courts worldwide such as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights, the Indian Supreme Court too should issue official media summaries of important decisions. Not only will this facilitate wide comprehensibility of key judgments, but it will also ensure that judicial decisions are not wantonly misinterpreted. Most importantly, it will mean that judges, whether in office or speaking in their judicial capacity immediately post-retirement, will have an additional reason to remain lockjawed, allowing their judgment together with its officially authorised summary to do the talking.
(Arghya Sengupta is a Stipendiary Lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Oxford and founder of the think tank The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service.)
- A case for judicial lockjaw (thehindu.com)
- Justice Ganguly, noted for frank and forthright views, retires (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Review petitions not favourable to courts, though they accept human fallibility (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- We were undeterred by personalities: Ganguly (thehindu.com)
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Chief Justice of India Shri S H Kapadia- Speech on the ocassion of Law Day 2011
We have assembled today to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event, the anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, the day on which our founding fathers subscribed to this document by signing the same and thereby unfolding the philosophy – social, economic and political, for the governance of free India. We have every reason to be proud of and to celebrate that unique occasion. We take this opportunity to thank the founding fathers, for this document, who spent a good deal of their time and energy in giving shape to this suprema lex which was to guide the future destination of the country. We are ever grateful to them. The foremost reason why we are proud of our Constitution is that it promises governance through the Rule of Law. While in many countries which initially opted for a democratic form of Government the euphoria lasted for brief spells, we are of the view that in our country, notwithstanding its complexity, democracy has stabilized and democratic institutions have flourished. The survival of democracy in India has left many bewildered.
The socio-economic transformation – a welfare State and an egalitarian society as its objective – must also be through the process of law. It is true that such desired socio-economic transformation through process of law has been slow, however, the march has been steady. Today, rule-specific laws are being substituted by rights-specific laws (RTE, RTI, Food Security Bill). These socio-economic legislation requires a paradigm shift in the matter of interpretation of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Courts have come from formal equality to egalitarian equality to the concept of Deprivation.
Judicial independence is one of the essential elements of Rule of Law. Every civilized society has seen the need for an impartial and independent judiciary. The principle of Judicial Independence has acquired renewed significance, since the Constitution of India has conferred on the Judiciary the power of judicial review. However, keeping in mind the doctrine of Separation of Powers, Judiciary has to exercise considerable restraint to ensure that the surcharged democracy does not lead to a breakdown of the working of the Parliament and the Government. The Judiciary needs to work in the area demarcated by the Constitution. Awareness about rights has grown while correspondingly redressal from the Executive has been reduced. The Executive has its own compulsions – huge population, lack of resources, high inflation, global economic region etc. As a consequence litigation has multiplied. Despite commendable achievements in terms of disposal which I will presently demonstrate, the challenge is and should be for Zero Pendency in which direction a lot needs to be done.
Today, the crisis of confidence in human institutions has come to the forefront. The deficiency of every institution in tackling the growing and complicated social problems has become a common feature. It is a challenge for every institution. Every democratic institution needs to meet this challenge. The viability of judicial institutions depends upon their acceptability by the people. When the viability of the system gets into disrepute and ultimately the system becomes less and less useful to the community, the challenge lies in rejuvenating the system by restoring its credibility and people’s faith in it. Thus, the foremost challenge to the
Judiciary today is viability of the system. Citizens approach the Court only when there is confidence in the system and faith in the wisdom of the Judges. This is where the Public Trust doctrine comes in. The Institution stands on public trust.
I am an optimist. I do not share the impression that judicial system has collapsed or is fast collapsing. I strongly believe and maintain that with all the drawbacks and limitations with shortage of resources and capacity, we still have a time-tested system. This is no justification to discard the system by giving it bad name. Judiciary has performed a commendable job, which is indicated by the Status Report. Before reading the statistical data, let me say that there is a need to highlight that all the stakeholders are accountable for maintaining and achieving standards of Court Excellence. The general tendency is to put the entire blame on the Judges.
The executive including the police and the Bar have an important role to play in expeditious disposal of cases. There is a backlog of cases, however, it is not as big as is sought to be projected. Please note that 74% of the cases are less than five years old. The focus: expeditious disposal of 26% of cases which are more than five years old i.e. “Five plus free” should be the initiative.
India is an aspirational democracy. It is the shared idea of India to emerge from Society which has individuals of diverse ideologies, cultures and religious denominations. We must, therefore, identify common strands that will bind us, as one nation and one people. Unless this is done we cannot build a modern and strong India. In the hierarchy of values, judicial integrity is above judicial independence. Judicial accountability needs to be balanced with judicial independence. I would request the Bar as well as eminent jurists to deliberate upon constitutional concepts such as Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability. We, the Judges, do not mind a studied fair criticism. However, as an advice to the Bar please do not dismantle an Institution without showing how to build a better one. Please remember “When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”
- The seven deadly sins of judges (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Don’t bring judiciary to disrepute for few erring judges: CJI (thehindu.com)
- National Law Day: Two Constitutional Scholars who upheld the values of our Constitution (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Judges must be beyond all suspicion (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- SC’s activism: Is it judicial overreach or government under-reach? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Judicial secret out in open (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA
Between the first Chief Justice of India Harilal Jekisundas Kania and present CJI S H Kapadia, there have been 36 others who held the top judge’s post. How many do we remember for their contribution to make judiciary a better institution and lift it a notch higher in public esteem? Few CJIs lasted in public memory after they retired. Fewer etched their names in the annals of judicial history as harbingers of changes. A still fewer number of Supreme Court judges are remembered after retirement. For, most do their constitutional job, reach the sunset of their career and sign off without disturbing the discipline they learnt in judicial melancholy. But there are exceptions. Justice Markandey Katju is one. When he was a sitting judge and presiding over a Bench, he had the power to dismiss a petition without assigning a reason while lecturing lawyers on how to prepare arguments. He got attention of the public and press for speaking his mind. His views, as distinguished from his judgments, were based sometimes on law and common sense but mostly on purely personal knowledge.
He did not encounter much criticism as a sitting judge. For, most were apprehensive of the contempt power vested with a judge. After retirement, he changed little and continued expressing his views on all and sundry without moderation. Shorn of his contempt powers, the retired judge soon found himself being questioned. On a daily basis, he was seen either making statements supporting his views, issuing clarifications on distorted versions of his earlier statements or e-mailing the list of his growing band of supporters. What he probably missed in the din of self-created cacophony was that he has ruptured the tranquility of melancholic judicial discipline. He kept harping on the misuse of freedom of expression by the press with impunity.
If anyone abuses the right to freedom of expression, he would be dealt with by the aggrieved party, for every journalist is aware that he enjoys no immunity from the process of defamation, libel or contempt laws just because he works for a newspaper or a TV channel. In C K Dapthary vs O P Gupta [1971 SCR 76], the Supreme Court more than 40 years back had said, “Freedom of press under Constitution is not higher than that of a citizen and, that there is no privilege attaching to the profession of press as distinguished from the member of public. To whatever height the subject of general may go, so also may the journalist, and if an ordinary citizen may not transgress the law, so must not the press.”
If some among us in the profession harbour a misconception about enjoying some special status before law, we must know that many senior journalists have faced the rigour of defamation, libel and contempt laws. What about the judges? Justice Ruma Pal, the third woman judge of the Supreme Court appointed in its golden jubilee year, reflected on the attitude of judges of high courts and the Supreme Court with a soul searching speech on November 10 at the V M Tarakunde Memorial Lecture.
She said judges were afflicted with “multitude of sins”, but culled out seven deadly ones — brushing under the carpet, hypocrisy, secrecy, plagiarism and prolixity, intellectual arrogance or dishonesty, judicial indiscipline and nepotism. It gladdens no one to be aware of the sins afflicting judges, but one must admire Justice Pal for the plain speak. One would have loved to hear from her about the life of judges who on retirement suddenly end their intrinsic association with judiciary. Well, we are not talking about the lucky few among retired Supreme Court and HC judges who land post-retirement assignments and shift from a judge’s quarters to a bungalow allotted by the government as chairman of a tribunal or a statutory council.
- The seven deadly sins of judges (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Judicial secret out in open (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Peer review (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Age is just a number (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- The Collegium Controversy (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Wrong people sometimes elevated to higher judiciary: Ex-CJI Verma (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘Judges must know their limits…they must not try to run the government’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘If judges show anger unnecessarily, people will feel we are just like ordinary people. We have to show our stature is above that.’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)