Change must respect basic structure

Upendra BaxiBY UPENDRA BAXI PUBLISHED IN THE  INDIAN EXPRESS

The relationship between “democracy” and “secrecy” has always been debated, and it has been highlighted by the system of judicial appointments. The proposed judicial appointments commission (JAC) seeks to partly answer that question. Under review is the judicial collegium method of appointments, in use since the 1990s (which consists today in the supremacy of five senior-most justices of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice of India), as against the constitutional method in place between the 1950s and the 1990s (where the executive nominated candidates in consultation with the CJI and such other justices as it deemed fit).

Neither method can be said to have failed or succeeded, because the citizen has no way of knowing who the candidates are, how they are selected and why. No empirical study of judicial appointments is possible because the records are not available, and like the electoral nomination of candidates, the right to information does not exist so far as judicial elevations or transfers of high court justices are concerned. Stories in which judges, lawyers, law ministers and journalists tell us about the “system” are abundant, but such anecdotal evidence is hearsay and not ordinarily admissible in a court of law.

In the three judges cases, including a reference for advisory opinion, the court arrogated the power to elevate (and transfer high court) justices through a tortured interpretation of Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution, by saying that the word “consultation” shall mean the “consent” of the CJI. But a constitutional convention giving primacy to the CJI was already in place — according to the law secretary’s affidavit, only seven out of some 348 recommendations were negatived by the Central government. If the system of executive nomination has worked so well, why the change?

Are the CJIs, in some cases, constrained to approve executive-dominated elevations? Justice Markandey Katju’s recent expose suggests that the CJI is vulnerable to alleged manoeuvring by the prime minister’s office. The justices in the judges cases seemed to think so, given that they accorded primacy first to the CJI, then to two judges and the CJI, and finally to a collegium of five justices.

To its credit, the UPA government introduced nearly half a dozen bills for judicial appointments and transfers, and contemplated a slew of measures on judicial standards, accountability, non-impeachment offences and transparency of the judicial process. The new government is espousing the cause; it clearly disfavours the political bravado that inspired a Union law minister to say that he had justices in his pockets; this is no longer the signature tune of modern governance. Rather, the state now wants a JAC that would avoid the vices of politicians appointing judges, and of the justices appointing their own.

This is welcome, as is the agreement that the senior-most judge may only be the CJI (at least till 2021, when even reforms contemplating a minimum tenure for the CJI may occur). The many UPA bills made the CJI the chair of the JAC, converged in making two senior-most justices of the Supreme Court members, provided a

process to identify two eminent citizens, and finally culminated in the 120th constitutional amendment bill, which too lapsed in the Lok Sabha. The NDA is likely to revive the amendment and bill in the new Lok Sabha. The text of the bills, the debates in Parliament as they occurred, the Law Commission’s report and other reports make compulsory, if dull, reading on this vexed subject.

In a consultation with eminent jurists convened by the Union law minister on July 28, while most went to the extent of saying that the judicial collegium had failed and agreed that the system of appointments needed to be changed, all the “jurists” endorsed the “dominance” of the CJI and his senior companions. If the advice of the CJI and his companion justices is to have an “edge” or “dominance”, how is it to be achieved? Should the JAC then adopt a weighted voting procedure, not unlike the United Nations Security Council? If the JAC is to decide by consensus, what will happen if the justices do not yield? What if some other eminent members, including the Union law minister, remain recalcitrant? And how much weight, if any, should be given to the Intelligence Bureau reports on prospective candidates?

A greater fundamental difficulty is posed by the basic structure doctrine. I have previously argued in these pages (‘Just governance’, IE, June 10) and at a New Delhi consultation that the best course is to obtain an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court on a draft amendment bill, considering whether abolition of the judicial collegium offends the basic structure and if it does, how the alternate JAC could be made constitutionally compatible. Already, the CJI has made it clear that the matter can only be settled in a judicial opinion; since the judges cases were decided judicially, no question arises of a mere administrative order by the court.

The court may advise the president that the basic structure is not violated or that certain changes to the JAC could save it from the indictment of offending it. This will result in a healthy dialogue on system change and collaboration, rather than an avoidable conflict between Parliament and the Supreme Court.

The basic structure here is the independence of the judiciary and judicial review. It is this power that ultimately decides the essential features of the Constitution. Appointments and transfers of justices definitely affect the basic structure, and the court should have a say in it. The executive may present evidence before the justices on why the judicial architecture needs to be reformed, and how the judicial collegium has “failed” the nation. Since almost all the leaders of the Bar believe that the judicial collegium has “failed” in drawing the best and brightest to become justices, they should have little difficulty in persuading the court.

The argument against an advisory opinion is that it would take undue time. But the 2G reference was relatively expeditiously disposed; the non-collegium justices would be justified in accelerating the opinion. In any event, the time taken for the reference will be democratically well-invested. The alternative of an adversarial proceeding, where the court may continue via a stay order to make appointments and transfers, scarcely advances the cause. Even under Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala (which enshrined the basic structure doctrine), Parliament has plenary powers to amend the Constitution. However, enacting the JAC without consulting the court may invite judicial wrath, and even lead to a constitutional crisis.

The writer is professor of law, University of Warwick, and former vice chancellor of the Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi

Voter has right to negative voting: SC

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on Friday held that citizens have right to cast negative vote rejecting all candidates contesting polls, a decision which would encourage people not satisfied with contestants to turn up for voting.

The apex court directed the Election Commission to provide ‘none of the above options’ at the end of the list of candidates in electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers to allow voters to reject those contesting polls.

A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that negative voting would foster purity and vibrancy of elections and ensure wide participation as people who are not satisfied with the candidates in the fray would also turn up to express their opinion rejecting contestants.

It said that the concept of negative voting would bring a systemic change in the election process as the political parties will be forced to project clean candidates in polls.

The bench noted that the concept of negative voting is prevalent in 13 countries and even in India, parliamentarians are given an option to press the button for abstaining while voting takes place in the House.

The court said right to reject candidates in elections is part of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression given by the Constitution to Indian citizens.

It said that democracy is all about choice and significance of right of citizens to cast negative voting is massive.

With the concept of negative voting, the voters who are dissatisfied with the candidates in the fray would turn up in large number to express their opinion which would put unscrupulous elements and impersonators out of the polls, it said.

The bench, while reading out the operative portion of the judgement, did not throw light on a situation in case the votes cast under no option head outnumber the votes got by the candidates.

It said that secrecy of votes cast under the no option category must be maintained by the Election Commission.

The court passed the order on a PIL filed by an NGO, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) which had submitted that voters be given the right to negative voting.

Agreeing with the NGO’s plea, the bench passed the path-breaking verdict and introduced the concept of negative voting in the election process, saying that it would further empower the voters in exercising their franchise.

The latest verdict is part of series of judgements passed by the apex court on the election process.

Earlier, the apex court had restrained people in custody from contesting elections.

The apex court has also ruled that MPs and MLAs would stand disqualified after being convicted of serious crimes.

The government has brought an ordinance seeking to negate the court’s judgement striking down a provision in the electoral law that protected convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification.

A two-judge bench of the apex court had felt that the issue on negative voting needed to be adjudicated by a larger bench as there were certain doubts over the interpretation of the ruling passed by a Constitution Bench in the Kuldip Nayar Vs Union of India case relating to a voter’s right.

Under the existing provisions of Rule 49(O) of the Representation of People Act, a voter who after coming to a polling booth does not want to cast his vote, has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote, who in turn would make an entry in the relevant rule book after taking the signature of the said elector.

According to the PUCL, Rule 49(O) was violative of the constitutional provisions guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Liberty) and violated the concept of secret ballot.

171376999-PUCL-Anr-v-UoI-Anr

India’s benign constitutional revolution

WE THE PEOPLE
WE THE PEOPLE

By Shivprasad Swaminathan Published in THE HINDU

How ‘We the People’ came to be the source of authority of the Constitution

This is the story of how and why the framers of the Constitution of India deliberately designed a procedural error in the adoption of the new Constitution with a view to severing the seamless transition of legal authority from the British Crown-in-Parliament to the new Republic of India. The deliberate procedural error consisted in a deviation from the Constitution making procedure prescribed by the Indian Independence Act, 1947 — the law enacted by the British Parliament granting India independence and formally authorising the Constituent Assembly to draft a Constitution for the newly liberated state. To be sure, the framers of the Constitution of India were not the first, and indeed they were not the last to deliberately incorporate such procedural errors in the process of Constitution making. The founders of the Constitutions of several other states including Ireland, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ghana, which were being liberated from the British Empire, took such a step. In doing so, they were all motivated by the same goal: that of ensuring constitutional ‘autochthony.’

Constitutional autochthony

The etymological roots of ‘autochthony,’ which is not to be confused with ‘autonomy,’ are to be found in the Greek autos (self) and chthon (earth). The goal of constitutional autochthony is to deliver an indigenous Constitution, the source of whose ‘authority’ can be located in the new state’s own soil. The dominant academic view in the middle of the 20th Century was that autochthony could not be achieved simply by drafting an original Constitution or verbally invoking We the People as the source of its authority, for autochthony does not so much concern the content of the Constitution as its pedigree: the chain of legal validity authorising it.

This proposition found doctrinal support in the influential theory propounded by the legal philosopher, Hans Kelsen, which had it that it was inconceivable for a legal system to split into two independent legal systems through a purely legal process. One of the implications of Kelsen’s theory was that the basic norm (grundnorm) of the imperial predecessor’s Constitution would continue to be at the helm of the legal system of the newly liberated former colony despite the legal transfer of power, precisely because the transfer of power was recognised as ‘legal’ by the Constitution of the imperial predecessor.

On Kelsen’s account, only an ‘unlawful’ or ‘revolutionary’ act could ensure an autochthonous Constitution by rending asunder all continuity with the imperial predecessor.

Such break in legal continuity is automatically achieved where a former colony’s independence is won as the result of an armed revolution, as was the case with the United States of America. Independence in such instances is not granted ‘legally’ by the Crown-in-Parliament and the Constitution of the newly liberated former colony is in no way authorised by the imperial predecessor. The situation is very different where independence of a former colony is not brought about by armed revolution, but is ‘legally’ granted by the imperial predecessor. This was the case with India, Pakistan, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Ghana whose independence was the result of the British Crown-in-Parliament’s enactment of separate statutes of independence (Independence Act) for each of them. The statutes of independence also set up Constituent Assemblies authorising them to draft new Constitutions for each of these States. Following the constitution-making procedure stipulated in the statute of independence would have meant that the validity of the new Constitution could ultimately be traced to an imperial grant. The mere verbal invocation of We the People as the ‘source’ of authority in such cases would have rung hollow, apart from being jurisprudentially implausible since the source of authority of the new Constitution would continue to be the imperial predecessor’s Constitution. In such cases, it was thought that since there was no ‘revolution,’ one had to be deliberately made up in order to secure an autochthonous Constitution. Accordingly, as John Finnis argues, the framers of new Commonwealth Constitutions took great care to do something illegal “so as to make up a revolution, however contrived.”

Irish influence

The Irish were the pioneers in conceiving the idea of a benign legal revolution geared towards constitutional autochthony. Ireland was granted independence under the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922 enacted by the British Crown-in-Parliament which also authorised the Irish Constituent Assembly to draft a Constitution for the newly liberated state. Thus, the Irish Constitution of 1922 was not autochthonous.

Though it was drafted by an indigenous Constituent Assembly, its chain of legal validity could be traced to an imperial statutory grant. With a view to changing this state of affairs, in 1937 the Irish Parliament amended the Constitution by deliberately violating the procedure for amendment stipulated in the 1922 Constitution and put the amended Constitution for acceptance in a referendum. Going one step further, the Irish Parliament also repealed the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922 enacted by the British Parliament, though it was not empowered to do so. It is widely accepted that this successfully severed the chain of validity with the Crown-in-Parliament and ensured a truly autochthonous Constitution. The framers of the Indian Constitution appear to have rehearsed the Irish route to autochthony to the extent possible in Indian conditions.

Independence was formally granted to India by the Crown-in-Parliament’s enactment of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 though the executive decision to grant India independence was arrived at earlier in the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946). It was under the Cabinet Mission Plan that the Constituent Assembly was envisaged and charged with the mandate of drafting the new Constitution for India. This was legally recognised in Section 8 of the Independence Act. The Cabinet Mission Plan had envisaged that the new Constitution would be put to the Crown-in-Parliament for approval. Though the Indian Independence Act did not reiterate this requirement, it did specify that the new Constitution drafted by the Constituent Assembly would have to receive the assent of the Governor General of India, who would assent to such law in the name of the British Crown.

The framers introduced two deliberate procedural errors in the enactment of the Constitution of India in violation of the Independence Act: a) They did not put the Constitution to the approval of the either the British Parliament as envisaged by the Cabinet Mission Plan or the Governor-General as envisaged in the Indian Independence Act 1947; b) Following the Irish precedent, Article 395 of the Constitution of India repealed the Indian Independence Act — something the Constituent Assembly did not have the authorisation to do. In doing so, the framers not only repudiated the source which authorised them to enact the Constitution but it was also a denial, albeit symbolic, of Indian independence being a grant of the imperial Crown-in-Parliament. This ensured that the chain of constitutional validity did not extend all the way to the Crown-in-Parliament, thus delivering a completely autochthonous Constitution. In this fashion, We the People, through the members of the Constituent Assembly, came to be the ‘source’ of authority of the Constitution, rather than the authority being traceable to the Indian Independence Act enacted by the British Crown-in-Parliament.

Why did it matter?

This quest for autochthony is likely to come across to some as an abstruse quibble that shouldn’t concern anyone other than the most pedantic legal theorists. There were, however, two reasons why the framers of new Commonwealth Constitutions felt constrained to pay such close attention to it. Firstly, it was feared that the British Crown-in-Parliament could, however improbably, reassert its authority over the newly liberated state by repealing the statute of independence and abrogating the new Constitution. There was, of course, no immediate apprehension of the British taking such a step. All the same, the framers of new Commonwealth Constitutions would have found, as Geoffrey Marshall notes, merely prudential reassurances to be precarious pegs to hang their nation’s independence on. Secondly, for sentimental considerations, the framers would have been loath to let the new Constitution be grounded in an imperial grant or be assented to by the British Crown. They would have wanted the new Constitution to be truly autochthonous, stemming from the authority of We the People so that an independent future could, albeit symbolically, be insulated from a troubled imperial past.

(Shivprasad Swaminathan is Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School)

By Shivprasad Swaminathan Published in THE HINDU

The Leveson Inquiry – A Report into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press

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Remarks by Lord Justice Leveson: Thursday 29 November 2012

For the seventh time in less than 70 years, there is a new report, commissioned by the Government, dealing with concerns about the press. It was sparked by public revulsion about a single act – the hacking of the mobile phone of a murdered teenager. From that beginning, it has expanded to cover the culture, practices and ethics of the press and its conduct in relation to the public, the police and politicians.

 This Inquiry has been the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen. In nearly nine months of oral hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others were read into the record. I am grateful to all who have contributed. The Report will now be published on the Inquiry website which also carries the statements, exhibits and both transcripts and video coverage of the evidence.

 For over 40 years, as a barrister and a judge, I have watched the press in action, day after day, in the courts in which I have practised. I know how vital the press is – all of it – as guardian of the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events, as the standard bearer for those who have no-one else to speak up for them. Nothing in the evidence I have heard or read has changed that view. The press, operating freely and in the public interest, is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As a result, it holds a privileged and powerful place in our society.

But this power and influence carries with it responsibilities to the public interest in whose name it exercises these privileges. Unfortunately, as the evidence has shown beyond doubt, on too many occasions, those responsibilities (along with the Editors’ Code which the press wrote and promoted) have simply been ignored. This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, also on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people.

 What the press do and say is no ordinary exercise of free speech. It operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter. Its impact is uniquely powerful. A free press in a democracy holds power to account. But, with a few honourable exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.

None of this, however, is to conclude that press freedom in Britain, hard won over 300 years ago, should be jeopardised. On the contrary, it should not. I remain firmly of the belief that the British press – I repeat, all of it, – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time. There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns. Not that it is necessary or appropriate for the press always to be pursuing serious stories for it to be working in the public interest. Some of its most important functions are to inform, educate and entertain and, when doing so, to be irreverent, unruly and opinionated.

But none of that means that the press is beyond challenge. I know of no organised profession, industry or trade in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked or ignored because of the good done by the many. Were it so in any other case, the press would be the very first to expose such practices.

The purpose of this Inquiry has been two fold. First, it has been to do just that – to expose precisely what has been happening. Secondly, it is to make recommendations for change. As to change, almost everyone accepts that the Press Complaints Commission has failed in the task, if indeed it ever saw itself as having such a task, of keeping the press to its responsibilities to the public generally and to the individuals unfairly damaged.

There must be change. But let me say this very clearly. Not a single witness proposed that either Government or politicians all of whom the press hold to account, should be involved in the regulation of the press. Neither would I make any such proposal.

 Let me deal very briefly with the idea that this Inquiry might not have been necessary if the criminal law had simply operated more effectively. There were errors in aspects of the way the phone hacking investigation was managed in 2006 and in relation to the failure to undertake later reviews, and there are some problems that need to be fixed with the criminal and civil laws and also in relation to data protection. In particular, exemplary damages should be available for all media torts. In the end, however, law enforcement can never be the whole answer. As we have seen, that is because the law-breaking in this area is typically hidden, with the victims generally unaware of what has happened. Even if it were possible – and it is certainly not desirable – putting a policeman in every newsroom is no sort of answer.

In any event, the powers of law enforcement are significantly limited because of the privileges that the law provides to the press, including for the protection of its sources. That is specifically in order that it can perform its role in the public interest. What is needed therefore is a genuinely independent and effective system of selfregulation of standards, with obligations to the public interest. At the very start of the Inquiry and throughout I have encouraged the industry to work together to find a mechanism for independent self-regulation that would work for them and would work for the public.

Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Black of Brentwood stepped forward to lead the effort. They put forward the idea of a model based on contractual obligations among press organisations. On Monday afternoon of this week, with the Report being printed, I received two separate submissions from within the press telling me that most of the industry was now prepared to sign self-regulation contracts.

The first submission recognises the possibility of improvements to the model proposed so far. The second expresses confidence that the model proposed by Lord Black and Lord Hunt addresses the criticisms made at the Inquiry. Unfortunately, however, although this model is an improvement on the PCC, in my view, it does not come close to delivering, in the words of the submission itself, “regulation that is itself, genuinely, free and independent both of the industry it regulates and of political control”. Any model with editors on the main Board is simply not independent of the industry to anything approaching the degree required to warrant public confidence. It is still the industry marking its own homework. Nor is the model proposed stable or robust for the longer-term future.

The press needs to establish a new regulatory body which is truly independent of industry leaders and of Government and politicians. It must promote high standards of journalism, and protect both the public interest and the rights and liberties of individuals. It should set and enforce standards, hear individual complaints against its members and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with civil law claims.

The Chair and the other members of the body must be independent and appointed by a fair and open process. It must comprise a majority of members who are independent of the press. It should not include any serving editor or politician. That can be readily achieved by an appointments panel which could itself include a current editor but with a substantial majority demonstrably independent of the press and of politicians. In the Report, I explain who might be involved.

Although I make some recommendations in this area, it is absolutely not my role to seek to establish a new press standards code or to decide how an independent selfregulatory, body would go about its business. As to a standards code, I recommend the involvement of an industry committee (which could involve serving editors).

That committee would advise the regulatory body and there should be a process of public consultation. In my report, I also address the need for incentives to be put in place to encourage all in the industry to sign up to this new regulatory system. Guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits for the industry, cannot be realised without legislation. So much misleading speculation and misinformation has been spread about the prospect of new legislation that I need to make a few things very clear. I am proposing it only for the narrow purpose of recognising a new independent self-regulatory system. It is important to be clear what this legislation would not do; it would not establish a body to regulate the press; that is for the press itself to do.

So what would this legislation achieve? Three things. It would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Secondly, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and thereby reassure the public of its independence and efficacy. Thirdly, it would provide new and tangible benefits for the press. As members of the body, newspapers could show that they act in good faith and have sought to comply with  standards based on the public interest. Decisions of the new recognised regulator could create precedents which could, in turn, help a court in civil actions. In addition, the existence of a formally recognised, free arbitration system is likely to provide powerful arguments as to costs should a claimant decide not to use that free system or, conversely, if a newspaper is not a member. In my view, the benefits of membership should be obvious to all.

This is not, and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. I am proposing independent regulation of the press organised by the press itself with a statutory process to support press freedom, provide stability and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent and effective. I firmly believe that these recommendations for self-regulation are in the best interests of the public and the press; they have not been influenced by any political or other agenda but solely by what I believe is fair and right for everyone. What is more, given the public interest role of which the press is rightly proud, I do not think that either the victims I have heard from, or the public in general, would accept anything less.

Turning to the police, the relationship between police and public is vital to the essential requirements of policing by consent and the press have a very important part to play in its promotion. Although there has been a limit on how far it has been possible for the Inquiry to go because of the need not to prejudice any ongoing investigations, whatever Operation Elveden (concerning corrupt payments to officials) might reveal, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police. However, while broadly endorsing the approach of recent reviews into police governance, I have identified a number of issues that I recommend should be addressed.

As for the press and politicians, the overwhelming evidence is that relations on a day-to-day basis are in robust good health and performing the vital public interest functions of a free press in a vigorous democracy; everyday interactions between journalists and politicians cause no concern. But senior politicians across the spectrum have accepted that in a number of respects the relationship between politics and the press has been ‘too close’. I agree.

What I am concerned about is a particular kind of lobbying, conducted out of the public eye, through the relationships of policy makers and those in the media who stand to gain or lose from the policy being considered. That gives rise to the understandable perception that the power of the press to affect political fortunes may be used to influence that policy. This, in turn, undermines public trust and confidence in decisions on media matters being taken genuinely in the public interest. This is a long-standing issue, and one which, over the years and across the political spectrum, has repeatedly resulted in opportunities being missed to respond appropriately to legitimate public concern about press behaviour.

The press is, of course, entitled to lobby in its own interests, whether editorially or through the senior political access it enjoys. It is, however, the responsibility of the politicians to ensure that the decisions that are taken are seen to be based on the public interest as a whole. This means the extent to which they are lobbied by the press should be open and transparent; and that the public should therefore have a basic understanding of the process. In this limited area, I have recommended that consideration should be given to a number of steps to create greater transparency about these influential relationships at the top of politics and the media and so address the issue of public perception and hence trust and confidence. A good start would be for those steps towards greater transparency to be taken in relation to press lobbying about this Report.

Similar considerations apply to the role of Ministers when taking decisions about the public interest in relation to media ownership. I believe that democratically accountable Ministers are the right people to make these decisions. However, I have made recommendations as to how the process can be made much more transparent to ensure that in future there should be no risk even of the perception of bias. It is essential that the UK retains a plural media with a genuine diversity of ownership, approach and perspective. In my opinion, the competition authorities should have the means to keep levels of plurality under review and be equipped with a full range of remedies to deal with concerns.

I must now place on record my thanks to all those who participated in the Inquiry.These are the assessors who have advised in areas of their expertise and who were selected by the Government with the support of the Leader of the Opposition, in the Prime Minister’s words “for their complete independence from all interested parties”; Robert Jay and counsel, for collating and presenting such a massive volume of evidence so efficiently; everyone in the Inquiry team who has worked so hard to achieve so much in such limited time; the core participants and their lawyers; and, most of all, the public who have provided evidence, views and submissions.

As I said at the beginning, this is the seventh time in less than 70 years that these issues have been addressed. No-one can think it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth. I hope that my recommendations will be treated in exactly the same cross party spirit which led to the setting up of the Inquiry in the first place and will lead to a cross party response. I believe that the Report can and must speak for itself; to that end, I will be making no further comment. Nobody will be speaking for me about its contents either now or in the future. The ball moves back into the politicians’ court: they must now decide who guards the guardians.

The Report has been published at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc1213/hc07/0780/0780.asp

The Executive Summary has been published at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc1213/hc07/0779/0779.asp

A copy of Lord Justice Leveson’s statement has been published at Remarks by Lord Justice Leveson – 29 November 2012 (pdf, 36KB)

Legal NGO wants ban on lawyers’ strikes

TIMES OF INDIA

KOCHI: Fiat Justicia, an NGO working in the legal field, has approached the Kerala high court seeking a ban on strikes by lawyers. The strike by lawyers on July 11 and 12 led to gross miscarriage and delay of justice and is against the specific directions of the Supreme Court in the matter, the petition filed through advocate M R Hariraj said.

Lawyers in Kerala had stayed off courts on July 11 and 12 as a mark of protest against the High Education and Research Bill and alleging encroachment upon the functions of the Bar Council of India as well as the State Bar Councils by the ministry of human resources development. The decision to support the strike was adopted by the Bar Council of Kerala in a meeting of the state council and all bar associations on July 1.

According to the petition, the court must restrain lawyers from resorting to strike and impose penalty on those engaging in it. It is also alleged that the Centre, state and high court didn’t take any action to avert the strike. It resulted in adjournment of over 90% of cases and is a violation of the directions of the Supreme Court in various judgments, the NGO contends. The NGO also points out that a representation was made to the chief justice of India demanding initiation of suo motu proceedings against those who conducted the strike.

The high court should issue specific directions to lower judicial forums that fall under the high court’s administrative superintendence as the supreme court held in Harish Uppal vs Union of India case in 2003 that damage caused by illegal call for strike by lawyers to parties must be compensated by suo motu action by the concerned courts.

Lessons in judicial restraint

Supreme Court of India

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE HINDU

In a democracy, the remedy for a malfunctioning legislature and executive must come from the people, not the judiciary

It is evident that the Pakistan Supreme Court has embarked on a perilous path of confrontation with the political authorities, which can only have disastrous consequences for the country. Recently its Chief Justice said that the Constitution, not Parliament, is supreme. This is undoubtedly settled law since the historical decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Marbury vs. Madison (1803).

The grave problem, however, that courts are often faced with is this: on the one hand, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, on the other hand, in the garb of interpreting the Constitution, the court must not seek an unnecessary confrontation with the legislature, particularly since the legislature consists of representatives democratically elected by the people.

The solution was provided in the classical essay “The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law” published in 1893 in the Harvard Law Review by James Bradley Thayer, Professor of Law at Harvard University. It elaborately discusses the doctrine of judicial restraint. Justices Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court were followers of Prof. Thayer’s philosophy of judicial restraint. Justice Frankfurter referred to Thayer as “the great master of Constitutional Law,” and in a lecture at the Harvard Law School said: “If I were to name one piece of writing on American Constitutional Law, I would pick Thayer’s once famous essay, because it is a great guide for judges, and therefore the great guide for understanding by non-judges of what the place of the judiciary is in relation to constitutional questions.”

The court certainly has power to decide constitutional issues. However, as pointed out by Justice Frankfurter in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette 319 U.S. 624 (1943), since this great power can prevent the full play of the democratic process, it is vital that it should be exercised with rigorous self restraint.

Separation of powers

The philosophy behind the doctrine of judicial restraint is that there is broad separation of powers under the Constitution, and the three organs of the State, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, must respect each other, and must not ordinarily encroach into each other’s domain, otherwise the system cannot function properly. Also, the judiciary must realise that the legislature is a democratically elected body, which expresses the will of the people (however imperfectly) and in a democracy this will is not to be lightly frustrated or thwarted.

Apart from the above, as pointed out by Prof. Thayer, judicial over-activism deprives the people of “the political experience and the moral education and stimulus that comes from fighting the problems in the ordinary way, and correcting their own errors”.

In Asif Hameed vs. The State of J&K, AIR 1989 S.C. 1899 (paragraphs 17 to 19), the Indian Supreme Court observed: “Although the doctrine of separation of powers has not been recognised under the Constitution in its absolute rigidity, the Constitution makers have meticulously defined the functions of various organs of the State. The legislature, executive, and judiciary have to function within their own spheres demarcated in the Constitution. No organ can usurp the function of another. — While exercise of powers by the legislature and executive is subject to judicial restraint, the only check on our own exercise of power is the self imposed discipline of judicial restraint.”

Judicial restraint is particularly important for the Supreme Court for two reasons:

(1) Of the three organs of the state, only one, the judiciary, is empowered to declare the limits of jurisdiction of all three organs. This great power must therefore be exercised by the judiciary with the utmost humility and self restraint.

(2) The errors of the lower courts can be corrected by the higher courts, but there is none above the Supreme Court to correct its errors.

Some people justify judicial activism by saying that the legislature and executive are not properly performing their functions. The reply to this argument is that the same charge is often levelled against the judiciary. Should the legislature or the executive then take over judicial functions? If the legislature and the executive do not perform their functions properly, it is for the people to correct them by exercising their franchise properly, or by peaceful and lawful public meetings and demonstrations, and/or by public criticism through the media and by other lawful means. The remedy is not in the judiciary taking over these functions, because the judiciary has neither the expertise nor the resources to perform these functions.

In this connection I may quote from an article by Wallace Mendelson published in 31 Vanderbilt Law Review 71 (1978): “If, then, the Thayer tradition of judicial modesty is outmoded, if judicial aggression is to be the rule, as in the 1930s, some basic issues remain:

“First, how legitimate is government by Judges? Is anything beyond their reach? Will anything be left for ultimate resolution by the democratic process, for, what Thayer called ‘that wide margin of considerations which address themselves only to the practical judgment of a legislative body representing (as Courts do not) a wide range of mundane needs and aspirations?’

“Second, if the Supreme Court is to be the ultimate policy making body without accountability, how is it to avoid the corrupting effects of raw power? Also, can the Court satisfy the expectations it has aroused?

“Third, can nine men [the Supreme Court Judges] master the complexities of every phase of American life? Are any nine men wise enough and good enough to wield such power over the lives of millions? Are Courts institutionally equipped for such burdens? Unlike legislatures, they are not representative bodies reflecting a wide range of social interest. Lacking a professional staff of trained investigators, they must rely for data almost exclusively upon the partisan advocates who appear before them. Inadequate or misleading information invites unsound decisions.

“Finally, what kind of citizens will such a system of judicial activism produce, a system that trains us to look not to ourselves for the solution of our problems, but to the most elite among elites: nine Judges governing our lives without political or judicial accountability? Surely this is neither democracy nor the rule of law.”

In Marbury vs. Madison (1803), Chief Justice Marshal, while avoiding confrontation with the government of President Jefferson, upheld the supremacy of the Constitution. Another example is the very recent judgment of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts in the Affordable Healthcare Act case, in which he basically followed the doctrine of judicial restraint.

In Divisional Manager, Aravali Golf Course vs. Chander Haas (2006) the Indian Supreme Court observed: “Judges must know their limits and not try to run the government. They must have modesty and humility and not behave like Emperors. There is broad separation of powers under the Constitution, and each of the organs of the state must have respect for the others and must not encroach into each other’s domain.” A similar view was taken in Government of Andhra Pradesh vs. P. Laxmi Devi.

New Deal legislation

A reference may usefully be made to the well known episode in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court when it dealt with the New Deal legislation initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt soon after he assumed office in 1933. When the overactive court kept striking down this legislation, President Roosevelt proposed to pack the court with six of his nominees. The threat was enough, and it was not necessary to carry it out. In 1937, the court changed its confrontationist attitude and started upholding the legislation (see West Coast Hotel Vs. Parrish). “Economic due process” met with a sudden demise.

The moral of this story is that if the judiciary does not maintain restraint and crosses its limits there will be a reaction which may do great damage to the judiciary, its independence, and its respect in society.

It is not my opinion that a judge should never be activist, but such activism should be done only in exceptional and rare cases, and ordinarily judges should exercise self restraint.

In Dennis vs. U.S. (1950), Justice Frankfurter observed: “Courts are not representative bodies. They are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society. Their essential quality is detachment, founded on independence. History teaches that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised when Courts become embroiled in the passions of the day, and assume primary responsibility in choosing between competing political, economic, and social pressures”.

The Pakistan Supreme Court would be well advised to heed these words of wisdom, even at such a late stage.

(Justice Markandey Katju is chairman of the Press Council of India.)

Judicial propriety in an age of scandal

 

Judicial propriety in an age of scandal
Judicial propriety in an age of scandal

ARGHYA SENGUPTA IN THE HINDU

Why Justice Dalveer Bhandari‘s election to the International Court of Justice while serving as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is an unhealthy development

Justice Dalveer Bhandari, a judge of the Supreme Court of India, was elected a fortnight ago by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, to serve as a Member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He defeated the Filipino nominee, Justice Florentino Feliciano, by a handsome margin and now has a six-year first term at the World Court. Justice Bhandari is undoubtedly a fine judge with considerable expertise in international law. His legal acumen, keen intellect and a sense of justice, especially for the poor and homeless that shines through in his domestic judgments, are qualities that make him an ideal representative of India, itself a beacon of democracy and human rights in the developing world. That India has made a good choice is not in doubt; whether it could have made a better choice, as some have suggested, is contestable though ultimately a moot point. The key issue that arises in this context relates to the fact that Justice Bhandari’s nomination by the Government of India and eventual election to the ICJ took place while he continued to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. This raises grave and disturbing issues regarding the independence of the judiciary in India and points to the lowered standards of propriety in the highest echelons of governance.

Judiciary & government

The independence of the judiciary is a significant legal principle in India, ever since it was held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Since then it has been used on several occasions by the Supreme Court most notably to judicially lay down norms regarding the appointment of judges, transfer of judges between High Courts and administratively with regard to claiming exemption for the office of the Chief Justice of India from the purview of the Right to Information Act and formulating an internal code of conduct for appropriate judicial behaviour. The extensive (and sometimes unwarranted) usage of judicial independence as a legal principle has however blighted its primary status as a normative principle of good governance which promotes impartiality, a key facet of fair adjudication. The judiciary must not only be independent of the co-ordinate wings of government as well as the parties before the case, but must also be seen to be so. The slightest doubt in the public mind of excessive proximity between the judiciary and the government, which is the largest litigant before it, may lead to significant apprehensions of a lack of impartiality thereby questioning the legitimacy of the entire adjudicatory setup. As the Supreme Court of India itself likes repeating in its judgments, “Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.”

It is this test of judicial independence as a normative principle that Justice Bhandari’s actions fail to satisfy. From available records, Justice Bhandari’s candidacy was accepted by the Ministry of External Affairs after a recommendation to this effect in January 2012 by the Indian Chapter of the Permanent Council of Arbitration, whose advice in this matter, the government has traditionally honoured. From that time, up to the election at the United Nations in April, Justice Bhandari continued as a serving Supreme Court judge, hearing cases (from the Supreme Court causelist record, he heard cases till the 9th of April) and being party to delivered judgments (the last recorded judgment thus far being delivered on the 27th of April, authored by Justice Dipak Misra, his brother Judge on the Bench).

Though his resignation is not a matter of public record yet (the website of the Supreme Court continues to show him as a serving judge at the time of writing of this piece), it is believed that it became effective only on his election to the ICJ. During the same time, as the Ministry of External Affairs’ response to a RTI petition on 8th February 2012 shows, the government was actively lobbying for his candidature in the United Nations, speaking on his behalf to various member states. Even if it is assumed that Justice Bhandari had little or no contact with the government in this process, the very fact that the government, a regular litigant in Justice Bhandari’s courtroom was actively espousing his cause outside it, is gravely problematic in terms of judicial independence conceptualised as a principle of good governance leading to impartiality.

Unheeded lessons from the past

It is not however the case that Justice Bhandari’s failure to resign as a judge of the Supreme Court prior to the government making him its official nominee for election to the ICJ is an isolated incident of judicial independence being imperilled at the altar of individual ambition. Justice Subba Rao’s acceptance of his candidature for President of India by the opposition parties when he was Chief Justice of India is the most egregious example of the independence of the judiciary being threatened by a single individual. Equally pertinently in the present context, the election of the last Indian to serve on the ICJ, the then Chief Justice of India, R.S. Pathak (who incidentally relinquished office as Chief Justice only subsequent to his election to the ICJ), was marred by strong claims that Justice Pathak’s appointment was part of a quid pro quo involving Union Carbide Corporation, the Government of India and the Supreme Court with the Pathak Court endorsing a deeply flawed settlement in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. It is disappointing that Justice Bhandari as an upright individual and a learned judge failed to pay adequate heed to these lessons of history and relinquish his judicial office before accepting a nomination by the Government of India.

What is equally disappointing is the lack of public outcry regarding this issue. When Justice Subba Rao accepted the candidature for President made to him by the opposition parties while still in office, a man no less than Motilal Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General, issued a statement to the press strongly condemning the Chief Justice’s decision, saying that “he has set at naught traditions which have governed the judiciary in our country for over a century.” Justice Pathak’s nomination to the ICJ was the subject of several scathing indictments, including by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer who wrote of “the beholdenness of the candidate [Pathak] to the litigant government for getting the great office for him.” As far as Justice Bhandari’s nomination is concerned, except a public interest petition challenging it as a violation of judicial independence, there has been a seemingly all-pervading public silence. Even the petition itself, though well-intentioned, was misguided, seeking redress from the Supreme Court in a matter which was characterised by impropriety rather than illegality of a type a judicial order could rectify. Justifiably, the Court refused to entertain it.

Importance of propriety

In an age of multi-billion rupee scandals, endemic corruption and food shortages caused by governmental apathy and inaction, the impropriety of a judge failing to resign at an appropriate time may intuitively seem trivial. But as with most questions of impropriety, though its effects may not be immediately apparent, they are the portents of an insidious decline in the standards and values that define institutions.

For the Supreme Court of India, judicial independence has been the cornerstone of its functioning from the time of its inception. Despite a few challenging periods, the Court, the Bar and the conscientious members of the political classes have always striven to fiercely guard the independence of the judiciary from any potential threats. The Bhandari episode is however a bellwether of a possibly developing relationship of cosiness between government and the judiciary, accompanied by a general public indifference, bordering on acquiescence, of such a relationship.

The government’s decision to nominate a sitting judge before whom it continued to appear as a litigant, Justice Bhandari’s decision to not resign when the government was lobbying for him, and most crucially public acceptance of such an unholy nexus are warning signs that ought to be heeded. While the return of an Indian to the World Court after an absence of two decades rightfully gives cause for celebration, it provides an equally significant opportunity for introspection, that the cherished principle of judicial independence, responsible in the first place for the high esteem in which the Indian judiciary and its judges are held on the world stage, does not itself fall into desuetude in the process.

(Arghya Sengupta is a Stipendiary Lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Oxford and the founder of the think-tank, The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service.)