Legislators acting in response to moral outrage seen on television and during street protests and being apparently influenced by the importunate gaze of victims of crime from the gallery, does not augur well for sound law-making. It may not be right to characterise the quick passage of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill in the Rajya Sabha as a hasty move because it has already been passed in the Lok Sabha in May 2015. The draft too had been slightly modified before that, based on a February 2015 report of a standing committee of Parliament. Yet, it is difficult to overcome the impression that some members may have been gripped by a bout of moral panic after the release of the youngest convict in the Delhi gang rape of December 2012. The seeming sense of urgency was undoubtedly influenced by a section of the media demanding ‘justice’ after the convict was released from a Special Home on completing his three-year term there. An impression is sought to be created that the country’s collective conscience demanded that a tough law be enacted to ensure that juvenile convicts committing heinous crimes do not get away with light sentences. An edifying aspect of this legislative episode is that there are enough voices around that understand that restorative justice is best ensured for this underclass by addressing the fundamental problems that create juvenile offenders in society in the first place, by ensuring universal access to education and social care for all children.
The Bill, which contains progressive aspects such as streamlining adoption procedures and extending the law’s protection to orphans and abandoned children, still suffers from the problems highlighted by the parliamentary panel. The government, unfortunately, did not accept the view that children in a particular age group being subjected to the adult criminal justice system will violate their right to equality under Article 14 and the objective of protecting children in Article 15(3) of the Constitution. It, however, dropped a clause that provided for treating those who had committed crimes before reaching the age of 18 but were apprehended after they turned 21, agreeing that it was unconstitutional. It extended the period of preliminary assessment (the original draft called it ‘inquiry’) by the Juvenile Justice Board to determine whether a juvenile offender should be sent for rehabilitation or tried as an adult, from one month to three months. The board’s assessment will still be subject to judicial review and may set off litigation over whether one 16-year-old was let off lightly or another was wrongly sent to an adult court. Such decisions may also be influenced by the prevailing public mood. It would have been wiser to have let the law stand in conformity with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which advocates equal treatment of all children under the age of 18. The difference between sober assessment and mercurial action cannot be more starkly emphasised.
Law Resoursce India New Delhi 04/11/2014
In view of the order dated 26 July 2012 in Criminal Appeal 135/2010 – Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal & Ors the present debate and controversy stirred up by the NCW Chairperson Lalita Kumarmanglam on Legalization of sex trade is a contempt of Supreme Court Orders. The National Commission of Women has been a party to the case and are aware of the Bench clarification dated 26 July 2012.
Speaking to the Times Of India she said that “I will only speak about the issue after the national consultation on November 8,” . “It is my personal and professional view that sex work should be legalized but the commission must make an informed decision and I am open to listening to all views. I will be using a lot of time next week to hold informal consultations on the issue, talking to all advocacy groups and others to understand what their apprehensions are.”
On October 28, Kumaramangalam told a daily that legalization will bring down trafficking of women and lower the incidence of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She also said she intends to put forth the proposal at the November 8 meet of the SC appointed Panel.
Bharti Dey of Durbar Mahila which supports the Legalisation Debate has stated “Police very often get paid to let off traffickers. Regulation will decriminalize the trade,” says Dey, whose organization currently runs self-regulation units and has sent at least eight traffickers to jail. She also points out that many of those entering the profession are extremely poor, have few options and know what they are getting into. “But they make it to our communities through traffickers and middlemen. Legalizing will remove these middlemen,” she says.
Supreme Court Lawyer and President of Shakti Vahini Ravi Kant while opposing the statement of the NCW Chairperson statement stated “Prostitution is Organised Crime and Violation of Fundamental Rights. Trafficking and sexual slavery is worst form of Human Rights Violation. No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice. More then 95% of the women have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade”.
He further elaborated that ” Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 criminalises the organised crime of Prostitution. Organised Prostitution creates a demand for young girls for the brothels which is met by trafficking of minor girls from across the Country.Giving Prostituion a legal status will be giving boost to demand of young minor girls who will be trafficked. In countries where such legalization has happened it has led to exploitation of women and girls and also commodification of women bodies.
He added that there here is no doubt that women who have been caught in the sex trade need access to all Government facilities and schemes and efforts must be made to see that they join the mainstream and are properly rehabilitated. Also those who indulge in this organised crime of human trafficking which leads to kidnapping of young girls from across the country need to be properly punished.
On the role of the Governmental agencies he lamented “The sad part is that inspite of various recommendations from the Supreme Court in various cases no geniune efforts have been made by any Government to see that this social malice which results from Organised Crime be eradicated”.
Kant further stated “The statement of the National Commission for Women Chairperson for legalising prostitution is deplorable. It is time that the Government of India ammends the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and brings in harsher punishments to the people who are involved in this organised crime”.
The Supreme Court in its order dated 26 July 2012 has clarified that its endeavor to provide right to life and access to governmental schemes should not be construed as an encouragement to prostitution. The clarification had come from a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Mishra after additional solicitor general P P Malhotra had drawn the court’s attention to its July 19 order in which it had sought suggestions from the SC-constituted panel on creating “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity”.
Malhotra had said there was a danger of the order being construed as an incentive to indulge in an activity that had been termed as an offence under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956.
The Judges on the bench passed had passed separate orders, but both meant to clarify that the panel would recommend steps to create “conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity as per provisions of the Constitution Article 21”.
Justice Kabir added a precautionary clarification — “The above modification should not be construed to mean any attempt made to encourage prostitution.”
Hearing the Petition Justice Mishra had clarified, “I prefer to add…sex workers have a right to live with dignity but the collective endeavour must be on part of the sex workers to give up the trade in case they are given alternate platform.”
The Detailed Order of the Bench Dated 26 /07/2012 is as follows :
1. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, has been filed on behalf of the Union of India, for modification of the order passed by this Court on 19th July, 2011, referring certain issues to the Committee which had been constituted by the said order itself.
2. The first modification sought by the Union of India is for deletion of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Samiti, from the panel. The second modification sought is with regard to the third term of reference, which reads as follows:-
(3) Conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
3. Appearing in support of the application, the learned ASG, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, submitted that the Samiti in question had been actively advocating the revocation of the Immoral Traffic(Prevention) Act, 1956, and had also been advocating the recognition of sex trade being continued by sex workers. The learned ASG submitted that the continuance of such Samiti in the panel is giving a wrong impression to the public that the Union of India was also inclined to think on similar lines. The learned ASG submitted that this wrong impression should be removed by excluding the Samiti from the panel.
4. As far as the second issue is concerned, the learned ASG submitted that wording of such reference could be suitably modified so as not to give an impression that the Union of India was in favour of encouraging the sex workers, in contravention of the provisions of the aforesaid Act.
5. We have heard Mr. Pradip Ghosh, learned senior advocate and Chairman of the Committee, as also learned senior advocate, Mr. Jayant Bhushan, who is also a member of the Committee and its co- Chairman and Mr. Grover, learned senior advocate, on the issue.
6. It has been submitted by Mr. Ghosh that at the meetings of the Committee, the members of the Samiti had contributed a great deal towards the understanding of the problems of the sex workers and it was not as if the said Samiti was encouraging sex trade, but were providing valuable inputs into the problems being faced by people engaged in the trade. Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover, and Mr. Bhushan, in one voice urged that the presence of the Samiti in the Committee was necessary even to function as a sounding board in respect of the problems that are faced by this marginalised and unfortunate section of society.
7. We agree with the submissions made by Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover and Mr. Bhushan, learned senior counsel, and are not, therefore, inclined to delete the Samiti from the Committee, as prayed for by the Union of India, and such prayer is rejected.
8. As to the second issue, it will not in any way make any difference to the terms of reference, if the wording of the third term of reference, is modified to the following effect:-
“Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
9. The above modification, should not, however, be construed to mean that by this order, any attempt is being made to encourage prostitution in any way.
10. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, is, therefore, disposed of in term of the aforesaid order.
11. Let this matter now be listed for consideration of the Sixth and Seventh Interim Reports, filed by the Committee, on 22nd August, 2012, at 3.00 p.m.
12. Let this Bench be reconstituted on the said date and time for the aforesaid purpose.
.………………J. (ALTAMAS KABIR) NEW DELHI; JULY 26, 2012.
1. While concurring with the views of my learned brother Justice Altamas Kabir, I prefer to add in regard to the second issue that this Court should not be misunderstood to encourage the practice of flesh trade or advocate the recognition of sex trade merely because it has raised the issue to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of the sex workers, for which this Court had taken the initiative right at the threshold. I consider this essential in order to allay any apprehension which prompted the Union of India to move this application for modification, by highlighting that the sex workers although have a right to live with dignity as the society is aware that they are forced to continue with this trade under compulsions since they have no alternative source of livelihood, collective endeavour should be there on the part of the Court and all concerned who have joined this cause as also the sex workers themselves to give up this heinous profession of flesh trade by providing the destitute and physically abused women an alternative forum for employment and resettlement in order to be able to rehabilitate themselves. I, therefore, wish to reiterate by way of abundant caution that this Court should not be perceived to advocate the recognition of sex trade or promote the cause of prostitution in any form and manner even when it had stated earlier in its terms of reference regarding conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
2. Thus, when we modify the earlier term of reference and state regarding conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, the same may not be interpreted or construed so as to create an impression or draw inference that this Court in any way is encouraging the sex workers to continue with their profession of flesh trade by providing facilities to them when it is merely making an effort to advocate the cause of offering an alternative source of employment to those sex workers who are keen for rehabilitation. When we say conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity, we unambiguously wish to convey that while the sex workers may be provided alternative source of employment for their rehabilitation to live life with dignity, it will have to be understood in the right perspective as we cannot direct the Union of India or the State Authorities to provide facilities to those sex workers who wish to promote their profession of sex trade for earning their livelihood, except of course the basic amenities for a dignified life, as this was certainly not the intention of this Court even when the term of reference was framed earlier.
3. We, therefore, wish to be understood that we confine ourselves to the efforts for rehabilitation of sex workers which should not be construed as facilitating, providing them assistance or creating conducive conditions to carry on flesh trade for expanding their business in any manner as it cannot be denied that the profession of sex trade is a slur on the dignity of women. Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution be therefore understood in its correct perspective as indicated above.
J (GYAN SUDHA MISRA) New Delhi, July 26, 2012
Senior advocate Fali S. Nariman appearing in cases before the Supreme Court where his son is a judge has revived an old debate regarding the appropriateness of such appearances
In 1967, when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the son of U.S. Supreme Court Judge Tom C. Clark as the Attorney General, Clark promptly resigned from his post. This was because an Attorney General will have to make frequent appearance in the court in which his father will be one of the judges adorning the bench and in that Supreme Court all the nine judges sit together. But in India that has not been the case. Right now the matter regarding the appropriateness of a lawyer appearing in a court in which his near relative is a judge has gained significance in the context of Fali S. Nariman, a leading senior advocate of the Supreme Court, continuing to appear in cases before the Supreme Court in which his son Rohinton F. Nariman has become a Judge since July 2014. While some criticism was aired regarding this in public, Mr. Nariman dismissed complaints maintaining that there is no legal bar for such appearance and said that everyone is equal before the law.
What rules say
Until 1961, in India, there were instances in which lawyers appeared in the same court over which their relatives were presiding. But after the Advocates Act, 1961 empowered the Bar Council of India to frame rules on the matter, such incidences have become rare. Under Rule 6 of the norms established by the Bar Council, no lawyer can practise in a court where any of his relatives functions as a judge. The list of such relatives included his/her father, grandfather, son, grandson, uncle, brother, nephew, stepbrother, husband, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, father-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law. However, there have been controversies as to whether the term ‘court’ mentioned in this Rule refers only to the court of that particular judge or the entire court where the relative works.
During the early 1980s, this rule came up for interpretation before the Karnataka High Court. Pramila Nesargi, a woman advocate who got married to Nesargi, a Karnataka High Court Judge who had lost his wife at that time, appeared before the court of Justice P.P. Bopanna. She was not a senior advocate at that time and as her name did not find mention in the vakalat filed in that case, the Judge directed her to file a vakalat to represent her client. The next day when her name appeared in the cause list, the judge who heard her case refused to allow her to appear before any judge in the Karnataka High Court.
He ruled: “The Bar Council prohibits a lawyer from appearing in a Court where a close relative works as a judge. While the term ‘court’ does not specifically refer to all the courts in a particular High Court, we should be strict in respect of a wife. A wife has an intimate relationship with her husband. Many matters discussed among judges would reach her ears. When a woman who has access to confidential matters in respect of a Court is allowed to practise in the same Court as a lawyer, it can spell danger.”
” Advocates Act, 1961 empowered the Bar Council of India to frame rules so that no lawyer can practise in a court where any of his relatives functions as a judge. ”
Subsequently, the matter was raised before the Supreme Court which ordered notice to the Bar Council. But the case was not taken to its logical end and the matter became infructuous as the counsel involved became a senior advocate and the Judge concerned was superannuated. Yet the controversy over the interpretation of the rule still continues to haunt the courts. When Justice P. Balakrishna Iyer became a judge of the Madras High Court, his son advocate P. B. Krishnamoorthy shifted his practice to another State. There was also a strange practice adopted by a lawyer in the early 1970s. The said lawyer used to sign hundreds of memos of appearances in bail applications so that those matters will not go before his father-in-law judge, who was known to be strict regarding granting of bail.
When Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer became a Supreme Court judge, his son who was a lawyer as well, chose not to practise in any court in India opting for private employment. Justice V. Sivaraman Nair of the Kerala High Court had worked as a junior of Justice Krishna Iyer. But as soon as his daughter and daughter-in-law started practising in the Kerala High Court, he requested the President of India to transfer him to another State.
Justice Leila Seth, a former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh writing in her autobiography recalled her experience in the Patna High Court regarding the two kinds of ‘practice’ the Bar had adopted.
She wrote: “I heard people talking about ‘Uncle Practice’ and ‘Lal Jhanda’. I wondered what all this was about. I learnt that, since a son was not permitted practice in his father’s court, if you did not want the matter to be heard by that court, you briefed the son and thus stopped the matter from going before the father; you had put out a warning ’Red Flag’. This misuse of a rule that had been incorporated to prevent partisan decisions was apparently quite prevalent, and some young lawyers even managed to make a living out of it. It was also rumoured that certain judges favoured the sons of their brother judges, and so the ‘Uncle Practice’ thrived.”
In S. P. Gupta’s case (1981) dealing with the judges’ transfer issue relating to close relations taking undue advantage of a sitting judge, the following way out was suggested to avoid embarrassment: “We have to take into account the advice given by the CJI in one of the seminars that where close relations of a Judge or the Chief Justice practise in the same court and are likely to gain undue advantage, the concerned judge should himself, in obedience to the keen sense of justice which every Judge possesses opt to be transferred to some other High Court.”
In 1997, all the judges of the Supreme Court assembled under the Chairmanship of Chief Justice J. S. Verma and adopted a resolution on ‘The Values in Judicial Life’. That resolution stated that a judge should prohibit a close relative of his from appearing in his court. It also stated that no relative of his should practise law while staying in the Judge’s house. Markandeya Katju, in his judgment in Raja Khan’s case, sounded a warning on the ills of kith and kin being allowed to practise in the same court as their relatives. He said: “Some Judges have their kith and kin practising in the same court, and within a few years of starting practice the sons or relations of the Judge become multimillionaires, have huge bank balances, luxurious cars, huge houses and are enjoying a luxurious life. This is a far cry from the days when the sons and other relatives of Judges could derive no benefit from their relationship and had to struggle at the bar like any other lawyer.”
What is the way out?
When Justice R. M. Lodha took over as the Chief Justice of India, some presspersons raised a question as to whether it was not possible to prohibit relatives of a judge from practising as lawyers in the same Court. He replied that it was up to the Bar to find a solution to the problem. He also dismissed a public interest litigation filed by advocate M. L. Sharma seeking a ban on the relatives of judges practising in the same courts.
With the controversy reviving in the context of Mr. Nariman appearing in the court where his son is a judge, the Bar Council of India must be called upon to suitably amend relevant rules and uphold the faith of the common man in the judiciary.
(K. Chandru is a retired Judge of the Madras High Court.)
>>There was a reference to Justice A.S. Bopanna in the Comment page article – “Father, son and the holy Court” (Oct. 24, 2014). It should have been Justice P.P. Bopanna.
The judiciary has been praised by some for its role in exposing corruption in politics, while others point to the defective method of selection of judges through the collegium system to criticise it. To prevent further easy public slapping of the judiciary, we must now finalise the method of appointment.
The suggested pattern of a judicial appointments commission broadly fills the void. It is headed by the chief justice of India (CJI) and includes the next two senior judges, the Union law minister, two eminent persons (emphasis added) to be selected by the prime minister, the CJI and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. Some rightly feel that “eminent persons” should be substituted with “eminent jurists”, because “eminence” by itself is too vague. Instead, “eminent jurist” would provide a larger field of academics, authors, outstanding lawyers (no longer practising, of course). The fear that the presence of a lay person would interfere with the independence of the judiciary is misplaced. As the Judicial Commission of New South Wales Annual Report said: “Judicial independence is not some kind of industrial benefit generously extended to judges and magistrates, it is [the] fundamental principle of our society’s constitutional arrangements.”
The provision with regard to the appointment of high court judges, however, states, unacceptably, that the JAC is only required to elicit (emphasis added) the views of the governor, chief minister and the chief justice of the high court. I can hardly see any relevance of eliciting the view of the chief minister separately from the governor. I, however, take strong objection to reducing the position of the chief justice of a high court to merely eliciting his view. The advice of the chief justice of a high court as to the suitability or otherwise of a person to be appointed a judge of a high court should normally be accepted.
Reportedly, though technically the collegium is being sought to be abolished, the CJI has asked chief justices of the high courts to consult their colleagues, even junior ones, as far as possible. But this suggestion may only be observed in the breach. I remember that in 1977, the Janata government’s informal suggestion that the chief justices of the high courts consult two senior colleagues was observed more in the breach. It was only when the collegium system was established that the chief justices of the high courts had no option but to consult their colleagues.
However, this did not mean that the government has accepted the collegium’s recommendation in all cases. In 1985, the chief justice of a high court and his two senior-most colleagues recommended four names, with the clarification that they must be appointed in the order in which the names were sent. This was done to prevent the government from picking and choosing on the specious argument that some names had not yet been cleared by the CBI and the appointments might be delayed, while those lower down the list could be appointed immediately. This was opposed by the chief justice, and the law ministry was so affronted that the government did not appoint any judge during his tenure. Afterwards, too, the law ministry first appointed new names and only later appointed those recommended by the earlier collegium. So the government’s intervention can only be checked by a strong judiciary. It is for this reason that I have reservations on doing away with collegiums entirely. The collegium system is welcome inasmuch as it constitutes a wider circle of three judges, rather than leaving it solely to the chief justice of the high court. The CJI’s advice to consult two more judges is welcome. I see no reason to abolish the collegium system at the high court level (which, after all, is only recommendatory). The appointments are now to be made under the provisions of the proposed JAC.
I am amazed that, so far, a serious self-inflected injury is being overlooked — that is, appointing the chief justices of high courts outside their parent court. I have never understood the logic of transferring the senior-most judge, whose turn to head the court in which he has worked for almost 10 to 15 years, and with the functioning and lower judiciary of which he is most familiar, has come. To transfer him to a new court for a period of one or two years or even less, to which he is a total stranger and most likely unaware of the names of his colleagues, is strange. At present, one has the embarrassing spectacle of a chief justice being transferred to a state where he cannot even understand the language. The chief justice of a high court should be the senior-most judge of the same court. This alone will lend strength and dignity to the high courts.
Section 8 of the new bill contemplates asking the state and Central governments to send recommendations for the selection of judges. I find this to be a frontal attack on the judiciary. After a JAC is constituted, the state or Central governments have no locus standi and should be outsiders in the process of selection. I agree though that the JAC should make public the names it is contemplating for appointments to high courts and the Supreme Court. This will make the process more open and participatory, and also negate the charge of secret manoeuvring in the appointment of judges.
The writer is a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court
The clamour against the courts has been continuous. Initially, there was talk of a “committed” judiciary. Then, of judicial accountability and transparency. And so on. The latest is — why should judges choose judges? Hence, the effort to replace the collegium by a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). The bill has already been passed in both Houses of Parliament. Is it the right way to do so? I think, No.
Let us see what is happening in the country. Who selects ministers? The prime minister and chief ministers. Who selects the generals? The generals. Who selects army commanders? The army. Who selects government servants? The government.
Why then do we want a different method of selection for the judiciary? Why should the judiciary not be allowed to select judges? Is it an effort to destroy the one institution that has performed and exposed scams and scandals like Coalgate and 2G?
The founding fathers created a judicial pyramid. The subordinate courts were the base. Then came district courts. The high courts followed at the state level. The Supreme Court was placed at the apex. They also laid down the procedure for the selection and appointment of judges. The selection and appointments of the officers in the subordinate and district courts are made in accordance with the rules framed and promulgated by the government in accordance with the Constitution. The “control” vests in the high court. In so far as appointments to the higher judiciary are concerned,
the matter was considered by the Supreme Court in the second and third judges’ cases.
The court’s dictum has been followed. Judges to the high courts and Supreme Court have been selected by collegiums for some time now. The scope for interference by the political executive has been reduced to a minimum. Consequently, criticism from different quarters is understandable. But can the JAC improve the quality of judges?
No system of selection can be absolutely perfect. Institutions run by human beings will reflect human frailties. A fact that deserves mention is that the Constitution itself provides for Union and state public service commissions to make selections to the various services. The commissions have been in place for a long time. Has their performance been beyond reproach or even satisfactory? Have these commissions not been described as “personal” service commissions? The kind of eminent persons proposed to be included in the JAC are usually members of the state and Union public service commissions too. Yet, what do we have? Petitions in courts alleging all kinds of malpractices. Still more, states have moved petitions, prosecuted members or chairpersons of the commissions for different irregularities and even offences. Would a similar commission for judicial appointments change everything for the better? Looks unlikely.
Second, the state is the single-largest litigant in the country. Should a litigant have any say whatsoever in the choice of judges?
Third, in a democracy, independence of the judiciary is of paramount importance. A fearless and independent judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution of India. It is a part of the “basic structure” and should not be sacrificed at the altar of the executive’s anxiety or ego. Legally speaking, the validity of the proposed bill is extremely doubtful.
The members of the collegium also monitor the performance of judges and lawyers who have to be considered for appointment to the high courts or the Supreme Court. They examine judgments of the persons who are considered for elevation. So far as the JAC is concerned, the majority shall not have that opportunity. They will necessarily have to depend upon hearsay evidence. This will be totally improper.
It is alleged that the collegium does not have a mechanism to “verify the character and antecedents of judges.” I think, it is not so. The court and/ or the chief justice can always ask the concerned agencies to do the needful. In certain cases, it has been actually done. I think the fear is wholly unfounded.
It has been suggested that judges sometimes indulge in mutual give-and-take. As a result, some people who should not have become judges at all have been elevated to still higher positions and courts, it is argued. Assuming this to be correct, can anybody claim we are totally impervious to all kinds of political and social influences or pressures? Has it never happened that, at the highest level, files are held up till the name of a particular person is cleared by the collegium?
But is the JAC the solution? No!
A rare exception under the collegium system has the potential of becoming the rule when the final word is left to the executive. Are the series of scams and scandals that have taken place recently in India not enough to caution us about the state of political morality? The judiciary is one institution in India that has performed and delivered. We can tinker with it only at our own peril.
The writer is former chief justice,
Kerala High Court
In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor (Legal Affairs) Maneesh Chhibber, Law Commission of India Chairman Justice A P Shah says most judges don’t believe the collegium system works and argues for a fixed tenure for CJI. This Idea Exchange took place before Parliament approved the new Bill for selection of judges
Maneesh Chhibber: Law Commission Chairperson Justice A P Shah submitted a report to the government on the collegium system. Incidentally, he is also one of the prominent victims of the collegium system.
Justice A P Shah: I read Fali Nariman’s article in The Indian Express. It seems he has suggested that the collegium system should be revamped. In my opinion, the collegium system is not a democratic institution; there are no checks and balances in it. If you let the same system continue without any meaningful voice to the executing civil society, even if you make it a little more transparent and a criterion is laid out, it may not improve the system itself.
I have been working on it for the past several days along with some of my colleagues and some people from outside. The government has not asked us to make a report, it is our initiative. At the Law Commission, we thought it’s a very important policy decision — whether you are going to have a judicial appointments commission to replace the present collegium system. It’s the Law Commission’s responsibility to make recommendations in that direction, but it’s not very clear whether it should go as a report or a consultation paper…
You will recall that there was a UPA Bill to bring the retirement age of high court judges on a par with that of the Supreme Court judges. The BJP opposed the Bill, and it is still pending. The only reason given in the Constituent Assembly debates was that high court judges may not opt for the Supreme Court if the retirement age is the same, because that is a kind of temptation to go to the Supreme Court, there is an additional three-year tenure, which I don’t think works today. There are two distinct advantages if it is brought on a par. First, the practice of lobbying and sycophancy, developed in recent times, will stop. Also, there will not be much heartburn because a person continues as an HC judge till 65. The second advantage is that you will be able to select judges at a young age. There is no rule but an unwritten convention that a person below the age of 45 will not be appointed in the HC, and a person below 55 will not be appointed in the SC. Look at the consequences: We are not getting good talent in the HC because once they cross 45, they would be more entrenched in practice. This seniority should really go.
Today, the Supreme Court is packed with (former high court) chief justices who are also the senior-most; there is no search for good talent. Once it is on a par, perhaps you would be able to select judges at a young age and they will continue on the bench for a longer period of time. In almost all countries, judges at the apex court have a long tenure — 10 years is the minimum, it should be 10-15 years. According to me, this (age bar) is rather arbitrary and in the committee meeting, everybody was almost unanimous that seniority should not be the criterion, you need to bring in young people.
And the last point is the fixed tenure of the chief justice. We are working on that. Till 2022, no chief justice will get a tenure of more than a year; the present Chief Justice gets only four-five months. My logic is that it should be five years, because the prime minister gets a five-year tenure, Parliament gets five years, so the chief justice should also get five years. But it may be less — three or two years.
The way the Supreme Court works is very different from what was contemplated by the law framers. One of the reasons there is no embargo against judges taking up post-retirement assignments in the government was because in the Constituent Assembly Dr B R Ambedkar had said that the government has only 5 per cent litigation, and since the government is not a major litigant, why prevent retired judges from accepting post-retirement assignments? That logic is no longer relevant because 60 per cent of the litigations are by the government. So, there may not be a complete bar, but a cooling-off period is very necessary. It could be one or two years, but there should be a cooling-off period.
Maneesh Chhibber: Don’t you think that the government or politicians are trying to use this clamour against the judiciary as an excuse to undo the collegium system brought in by the Supreme Court?
The UPA Bill (which was not passed) said that the Judicial Appointments Commission should have three judges and three non-judges, but there was an attempt to have an amendment, to have a seventh member. And the seventh member, as per the amendment, was to be a non-judge. So virtually, judges will be in a minority. One suggestion was that there should be two non-judges and an eminent person should be given a veto. If both of them decide to oppose the appointment, then it should not be made. There is a fear (that this is a move to undo the collegium system), and I can’t say no to that.
Arun sukumar: Would the situation be any different if the collegium decisions were to be made public under RTI?
Under RTI, the questions that come up relate to justification for making an appointment or if somebody is being overlooked, or why a particular candidate was chosen for the high court. But the reasons are not given. So how is RTI going to help? RTI’s objective is to bring transparency, but RTI itself is not sufficient. Transparency would come only if you make it known that there are vacancies, you get nominations from the stakeholders concerned, have mandatory consultations with the high courts, state governments and maybe the Bar, and then declare the names before they are finalised, so that people know. I’m not in favour of interviews in public or any such American system, but we must bring in some sort of transparency, and that can’t be achieved by an RTI application.
Maneesh Chhibber: At the meeting which the government called to discuss the Judicial Appointments Commission, one of the biggest concerns was that whatever was brought in, the JAC should meet the standard set by the judiciary. What do you think is that standard?
Upendra Baxi suggested that you prepare a Bill and make a presidential reference to the Supreme Court. Let the Supreme Court examine it, the way it has done in the past. This was a good idea according to me, but it was felt, and may be justifiably, that it takes time. The other was what Nariman suggested. I really liked the idea — have a dialogue, let the judiciary participate in that dialogue. That’s a great idea — let them at least listen to voices of people or other stakeholders. My fear is that if the judiciary is either equal or in a minority, this Bill will become (legally) vulnerable.
Dilip Bobb: You have been consulting colleagues in the judiciary. What is their reaction to your suggestions, including the cooling-off period?
The problem is that most judges — till they are in the collegium — defend the collegium system because it is very difficult for a serving judge (to criticise it). Nobody honestly believes that this system works well. Many retired judges, barring the exception of former chief justice (Altamas) Kabir and a few others, believe that this system has not worked.
About cooling-off period, what is bad about post-retirement assignments is that for one post, there are 10 aspirants. This leads to unfortunate developments.
Seema Chishti: You were talking of an eminent person being selected. Isn’t that problematic?
The problem is manifold. First, the Constitution uses the words ‘distinguished jurist’. Not a single person was appointed in the past 60 years in that category. During the debates in the Constituent Assembly, they gave the example of Felix Frankfurter. He was a great professor and was taken from a university to the American Supreme Court; he was not a practising lawyer. What they really had in mind was an academic. If I look at the Indian scenario, Prof N R Madhava Menon or Prof Upendra Baxi would have been brought to the Supreme Court in that category. But that jurist can be anyone. Nariman has contributed greatly in the legal frame, he has written several books, perhaps in that sense he would know.
The absence of a non-legal person would give a sense of incompleteness; it should not be a closed-door affair for the legal community, there should be an eminent person, for instance, our past president A P J Abdul Kalam. There are many such eminent persons, who can be picked by the PM, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
Vandita Mishra: The debate is also about the executive versus the judiciary, which is an age-old tussle. Do you see the present as a special moment where there is a confrontation developing between the executive and the judiciary? Is the judiciary more on the backfoot and the executive more aggressive than in the past?
The real issue is, who will have the last word, who will be the custodian of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has said that the court will have the last word in any amendment. But then coming to narrower issues of appointments, who will have the last word? Judges say that judiciary will have the last word.
Vandita Mishra: The executive is more aggressive because of its majority. What about the judiciary, what is the special moment that the judiciary finds itself in today?
Very broadly, the judiciary is entering into several areas where it should not be. There is a tremendous expanse of the judiciary’s powers and then with the PILs, it is armed with so many weapons. It is becoming very powerful. With that, the scrutiny is becoming extremely focused by the media and several other bodies. One significant development was the decision of the collegium on Karnataka judges.
Rakesh Sinha: As the law minister in A B Vajpayee’s government, Arun Jaitley had moved an amendment for scrapping the collegium.
You are right. There were seven-eight proposals after 1993. And they gave different combinations. In some proposals, even the legislature was included, apart from the executive. In some proposals, it was completely judge-dominant. We are looking into all the proposals.
Maneesh Chhibber: At the meeting called by the government, one got the feeling that the general consensus was that the government should come up with a proposal, have at least one more round of talks with the stakeholders. But it appears the Cabinet is going to clear the Bill.
I distinctly remember Anil Diwan saying that, ‘Instead of holding such meetings, why don’t you draft a Bill and then come to us?’. That is a good idea.
Seema Chishti: Regarding the recent instance of the Delhi Assembly case being heard by the Constitution bench, should the court get into this at all? In an earlier instance, the court had said that the Jharkhand Assembly should have a session at 11.30 am.
I don’t want to make any comment on that. The argument being made is that it is clear the Delhi government is not going to be constituted (any time soon). But the Constitution gives power to the executive that the suspension can continue up to one year. To what extent is judicial review permissible is a debatable issue.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: We had Iqbal Chagla as our guest in Mumbai and he said that in the ’60s and ’70s, the Bar used to be very strong. At times it took up issues of corruption and stalled appointments. Do you think that today, there is nothing that the Bar stands up for?
A recent example is P D Dinakaran’s case — the Bar took up that case. I have seen lawyers acting as some sort of vigilance on wrong appointments. But their number is on the decline. The Bar should be more alert.
Vandita Mishra: What is your view on the mechanism of fast-track courts (for legislators)?
Let me tell you about the Law Commission’s report. The Commission felt that several previous committees disqualified a person if he was facing a serious criminal charge, punishable with five or more years in jail. The debate is, how can you expel a person when he is merely facing a charge; there is no determination. And there is misuse of this provision. Criminalisation of politics is a very serious issue. So if you believe that lawbreakers should not be lawmakers, then we need to have a system where we keep such people out. We went by the reasoning of the Supreme Court judgment in the CVC case that it is protecting institutional integrity.
There is a difference between filing a chargesheet and framing of a charge. We suggested three safeguards.
First, the charge should be framed at least one year prior to the elections. Second, such disqualification should not continue beyond six years. If within six years a person’s case is not decided, he or she should be allowed (to continue). Then we realised what happens if the charge is framed within one year and the person gets elected. Or what happens if the charge is framed after he is elected. In that context, we decided that the case should be decided within one year.
Vandita Mishra: So legislators should be singled out for fast-track, time-bound trial.
It should be done. That’s a deterrent.
Vandita Mishra: But some people would say that rapists should be singled out, not legislators.
In the case of rapists, it is already happening.
Aneesha Mathur: In your recent report you have mentioned fast-tracking, but you have also said that there may be a trade-off between the quality and quantity of judgments.
Most judges write bad judgments. It should be properly administered justice and in the name of fast-tracking you should not be affecting the quality.
Rakesh Sinha: A lower court judge in Madhya Pradesh recently wrote to the Chief Justice of India saying a high court judge was exploiting her and that she was forced to resign.
It is a very serious complaint and if it is found true prima facie on inquiry, then the logical step would be to withdraw the judicial person, and initiate impeachment proceedings.
Transcribed by Vandana Kalra & Debesh Banerjee
There is now a consensus amongst judges, lawyers and legislators that the present system of appointment of judges to superior courts by a collegium of Supreme Court judges requires to be changed for a better one. There are sound reasons for this move.
First, the appointment of judges by the Supreme Court collegium has no foundation in our Constitution. Article 124 of the Constitution provides that every judge of the Supreme Court is to be appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice of the Supreme Court and other judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. Similar power is given by Article 217 to the president in consultation with the chief justice of India (CJI), the governor of the state and chief justice of the high court for the appointment of judges to high courts.
In 1981, in what is known as the first judges’ case, the Supreme Court held that the power of appointment of judges of the superior courts resided solely and exclusively in the president, that is, the Central government, subject to full and effective consultation with the constitutional functionaries referred to in Articles 124 and 217. However, in 1992, the Supreme Court, in the second judges’ case, professing to safeguard the independence of the judiciary, reversed the first verdict and rewrote the constitutional provisions to hold that the primacy in the appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court was with the CJI, who would make his recommendation to the president after consultation with two of his senior judges. The president would only have the limited power of expressing his doubts on the recommendation of the CJI. The president’s doubts would not however prevail if the CJI reiterated his recommendation on the appointment of the judge. In a later judgment, known as the third judges’ case, the Supreme Court diluted the primacy of the CJI, and gave the power of appointment to a collegium of the CJI and four of his senior-most colleagues.
The judgments in the second and third judges’ cases are an extraordinary tour de force in the name of securing the independence of the judiciary. The court has rewritten the provisions of the Constitution for the appointment of judges. The executive’s function in the appointment process has for all practical purposes been eliminated and reduced to the formal approving of a recommendation made by the CJI and his collegium. “Consultation” with the CJI in the Constitution has been transmuted into an original power to appoint by the CJI and a collegium. The Constituent Assembly’s view at the time of enacting the constitutional provisions, that the CJI should not be the final appointing authority, was disregarded by the court. In no jurisdiction in the world do judges appoint judges.
Even if the collegium’s method for the appointment of judges has no foundation in the Constitution, it could have been excused had the system worked satisfactorily, but unfortunately, for over 20 years, it has not. In the first instance, the collegium system lacks transparency and is secretive. The public is not aware of the selection of a judge until his name is forwarded to the government by the collegium. Second, there have been instances of judges being selected or not selected due to favouritism or prejudice of members of the collegium. Third, selection on competitive merit of the appointees is discarded and judges are generally appointed to the Supreme Court on their seniority in ranking in the high courts. The late Justice J.S. Verma, principal author of the second judges’ judgment, later admitted that the collegium system had failed.
Should the earlier system of the exective appointing judges after proper consultation be restored? Paradoxically, from 1950 to 1973, some of the most outstanding judges of our Supreme Court were appointed through this system. Eminent judges like Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court are strongly in favour of restoring the old system, with control over it by Parliament. It was only during the period of the Emergency that this system was subverted, which led to the judiciary appropriating the power in the second judges’ case. Even today, in Australia and Canada, it is the executive that appoints judges after proper consultation.
To introduce a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) in India is a fundamental change in the Constitution. Such a change requires careful consideration and evaluation of the system. It is important to know that, except for the judicial appointment commission of the UK introduced by the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005, such commissions have not been successful elsewhere. The South African constitution provides for a judicial appointment commission, but its working is far from satisfactory and at times appointments have been influenced by the government. The same is true of judicial appointment commissions in other states in Africa.
If the JAC is to be introduced in India, its composition should be made part of the Constitution itself and not left to ordinary legislation by Parliament. There should be proper representation of members, including of the legal profession, in the JAC. The JAC will be over-stressed and overworked if it has to make appointments for 31 judges to the Supreme Court and over 800 judges to the 24 high courts. The CJI and two senior-most judges, who are to be part of the commission, would have to work in the commission to the neglect of their primary judicial duties of hearing and deciding cases. There ought to be two separate judicial commissions, therefore, one for the Supreme Court and the other for the high courts. The JAC for high courts ought to
be composed of retired judges of the Supreme Court or high courts, in addition to other members. In the UK, there are separate selecting bodies for high court and for supreme court. The overriding factor will be the merit of the candidate, but the commission, as in the UK, should consider diversity, namely, appointment of women judges and judges of various regions without of course sacrificing merit.
Overall, the creation of a JAC requires careful consideration and extensive consultation with all sections of the public, including the CJI. The present law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, rightly convened a meeting on July 28 of judges and lawyers and jurists to discuss the changes to be made. It is to be hoped that such consultations will be continued before a legislation is introduced. The collegium system has not worked, but we should not have a situation where we jump from the frying pan of the collegium to the burning fire of a chaotic National Judicial Commission.
The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court and former Solicitor General of India
This expose is by Justice Markandey Katju, who was chief justice of Madras high court before becoming a Supreme Court judge. He is now chairman of the Press Council of India.
There was an additional judge of the Madras high court against whom there were several allegations of corruption. He had been directly appointed as a district judge in Tamil Nadu, and during his career as district judge there were as many as eight adverse entries against him recorded by various portfolio judges of the Madras high court. But one acting chief justice of Madras high court by a single stroke of his pen deleted all those adverse entries, and consequently he became an additional judge of the high court, and he was in that post when I came as chief justice of Madras high court in November 2004.
That judge had the solid support of a very important political leader of Tamil Nadu. I was told that this was because while a district judge he had granted bail to that political leader.
Since I was getting many reports about his corruption, I requested the Chief Justice of India, Justice RC Lahoti, to get a secret IB inquiry made about him. A few weeks thereafter, while I was in Chennai, I received a call from the secretary of the CJI saying that Justice Lahoti wanted to talk to me. The CJI then came on the line and said that what I had complained about had been found true. Evidently the IB had found enough material about the judge’s corruption.
Since the two-year term as additional judge of that person was coming to an end, I assumed he would be discontinued as a judge of the high court in view of the IB report. However, what actually happened was that he got another one year’s appointment as an additional judge, though six other additional judges who had been appointed with him were confirmed and made permanent judges of the high court.
I later learned how this happened. The Supreme Court collegium consists of five most senior judges for recommending names for appointment as a Supreme Court judge, and three most senior judges for dealing with high courts.
The three most senior judges in the Supreme Court at that time were the Chief Justice of India, Justice Lahoti, Justice YK Sabharwal, and Justice Ruma Pal. This Supreme Court collegium recommended that in view of the adverse IB report the judge should be discontinued as a high court judge after his two-year term was over, and this recommendation was sent to the central government.
The UPA government was at the Centre at that time. Congress was no doubt the largest party in this alliance, but it did not have a majority in Lok Sabha, and was dependent on the support of its allies. One such ally was the party in Tamil Nadu which was backing this corrupt judge. On coming to know of the recommendation of the three-judge Supreme Court collegium they strongly objected to it.
The information I got was that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at that time leaving for New York to attend the UN general assembly session. At the Delhi airport, he was told by ministers of the Tamil Nadu party that by the time he returned from New York his government would have fallen as their party would withdraw support to the UPA (for not continuing that additional judge).
On hearing this, Singh panicked, but he was told by a senior Congress minister not to worry, and that he would manage everything. That minister then went to Justice Lahoti and told him there would be a crisis if that additional judge was discontinued. On hearing this, Justice Lahoti sent a letter to the government of India to give another term of one year as additional judge to that corrupt judge, (I wonder whether he consulted his two Supreme Court collegium members ), and it was in these circumstances this corrupt judge was given another one-year term as additional judge (while his six batch mates as additional judges were confirmed as permanent Judges).
The additional judge was later given another term as additional judge by the new CJI Justice Sabharwal, and then confirmed as a permanent judge by the next CJI Justice KG Balakrishnan, but transferred to another high court.
I have related all this to show how the system actually works, whatever it is in theory. In fact, in view of the adverse IB report the judge should not even have been allowed to continue as additional judge.
The Supreme Court has taken the position that it cannot be expected to abandon its role of being the guardian of the fundamental rights of all persons within the territory of India
In a span of about 45 days, the Supreme Court of India has delivered two judgments that have received diametrically opposite reactions — one will count among the Court’s most poorly reasoned judgments while the other is likely to be heralded as one of its finest for its clarity and fidelity to earlier decisions. The contrast between Justice Singhvi’s judgment upholding the criminalisation of homosexuality and that of Chief Justice Sathasivam affirming the rights of mercy-rejected death row prisoners could not be starker. After Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya upheld the constitutionality of Section 377 of the IPC in Suresh Kumar Koushal, the credibility of the Court as a counter-majoritarian institution had suffered a serious setback. However, the Chief Justice, along with Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, has done a remarkable job in partly restoring the credibility of the Court through a thoroughly reasoned judgment in Shatrughan Chauhan v Union of India. In Chauhan, the Court has concluded that inordinate delay in the rejection of mercy petitions of death row convicts amounted to torture and that it is a sufficient basis, in and of itself, to commute a sentence of death to life imprisonment. It is not just about the contrast in outcomes in these two cases but the processes adopted by these two judgments will go a long way in determining the position they will occupy in the judicial history of this country.
Any comparison between the two judgments must begin by acknowledging complexities involved in both cases. The legal response to homosexuality in India through Section 377 has been on the statute books for over 150 years. Though attitudes towards homosexuality have undergone significant changes, it would only be fair to acknowledge that it is nonetheless a deeply divisive issue in India. It would also be a fair assessment that the death penalty and treatment that must be accorded to those sentenced to death are extremely polarising issues. The case before the Supreme Court in Chauhan was particularly delicate because the President had rejected mercy to all 15 prisoners before the Court. However, all 15 prisoners had returned to the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of their right to life on the ground that their suffering on death row due to the inordinate delay by the executive (ranging between 11 to 1.5 years) entitled them to commutation of their death sentence. It must also be noted that the Supreme Court in both cases was being asked to intervene in situations where other organs of the state had already made certain determinations. In Koushal, the legislature had made the political determination that homosexuality would be criminalised by not repealing Section 377. Similarly, in Chauhan, the executive, through the President of India, had rejected all the mercy petitions.
Though the challenges were similar in many ways, there is an unbelievable contrast in the manner in which the Supreme Court responded. In Koushal, the judgment authored by Justice Singhvi does not address the legal issues that were at the heart of the constitutional challenges to Section 377. There are the poorly argued sections on equality under Article 14 and the right to life under Article 21 while completely ignoring the arguments on the protection against discrimination under Article 15. The shortcomings of Koushal are evident when it is compared to the judgment of the Delhi High Court on Section 377 in Naz Foundation. There are established constitutional doctrines to test whether a provision of law is discriminatory and violates the right to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, none of which finds any serious engagement in Koushal. None of this is about whether one supports Section 377 or not. It is about adopting a sound judicial technique — it is about identifying precise and relevant questions; it is about applying constitutional doctrines to those questions in a rigorous manner; it is about reasoned conclusions. Rights adjudication is not about judges merely taking a decision and that is what distinguishes them from politicians. Unfortunately, the judgment in Koushal fails on all these grounds. More than the unacceptable outcome, what must worry us more is that the judgment in Koushal reads like a thinly veiled political decision.
However, the judgment in Chauhan articulates a very difficult legal issue precisely and clarifies the decision of a five-judge bench in Triveniben (1989) on it. While clarifying and relying on Triveniben, there is thorough constitutional reasoning in Chauhan that led the Court to come to the conclusion that inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions amounts to torture and that the nature of the crime must have no relevance in that determination. The issue about the nature of the crime was particularly important in the context of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bhullar. In Bhullar, the Supreme Court had concluded that those sentenced to death for terrorist offences could not invoke the argument about inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions due to the nature of crimes. While relying on Triveniben to come to the conclusion that the classification of terrorist and non-terrorist offences in the context of inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions is constitutionally invalid, the judges, in Chauhan,have not created new jurisprudence and have only clarified the content and application of earlier judgments. There is tremendous judicial skill in the manner in which they have analysed earlier judgments and applied constitutional doctrines.
Challenges and responses
The most obvious difference in the two judgments is the approach to the target groups concerned. In Koushal, the perception that only very few homosexuals have been prosecuted under Section 377 was of tremendous significance to the judges. A numerical approach to rights enforcement is rather baffling and quite alien to the jurisprudence developed by the Indian Supreme Court. In Chauhan, despite dealing with a very small group of individuals (those death row prisoners whose mercy petitions have been rejected) and in particular a group which is often hated and reviled, the judges emphatically held that the protections in the Constitution are available to every individual, without exception. Perhaps the greatest merit of the decision in Chauhan is the rejection of the argument that retribution or strong moral disapproval of actions by death row prisoners can be used to deny them constitutionally protected rights.
As far as institutional relations between different organs of the State are concerned, the Supreme Court, in Koushal, ruled that Parliament was free to amend Section 377 and decriminalise homosexuality. However, if the law were to stand, the judges felt there was no constitutional infirmity. There is a palpable reluctance to meaningfully scrutinise a law on a divisive issue where the political class has made a choice. However, in Chauhan, the Supreme Court squarely addresses the warning that the Court might be overstepping its jurisdiction because the President had already rejected the mercy petitions of all 15 prisoners. The Court is clear that it is not questioning the power of the President to reject mercy petitions but is rather interested and competent to go into the issue of whether the executive violated the rights of the death row convicts due to the inordinate delay. The Supreme Court has taken the position that it cannot be expected to abandon its role of being the guardian of the fundamental rights of all persons within the territory of India, whoever they might be.
The Supreme Court, in Chauhan, had the courage to undertake significant course correction by clarifying the ruling in Triveniben. As efforts to decriminalise homosexuality gather pace again with the scheduled review of Koushal this week, the Supreme Court must see the fact that critical questions about the constitutionality of Section 377 have not been addressed in Koushal. If the review petition does not result in correction of the errors in Koushal, the Chief Justice of India (due to retire in April 2014) will find himself in an interesting position. After having delivered a judgment that has gone a long way to restore the credibility of the Court after Koushal, the Chief Justice will have to decide if he wants to refer the constitutionality of Section 377 to a larger bench. Given the intensity of his commitment to the rule of law as displayed in Chauhan, it would be surprising if Chief Justice Sathasivam lets the poorly reasoned judgment in Koushal be a blot on his tenure as Chief Justice of India. He only needs to look as far as the Delhi High Court’s judgment on Section 377 in Naz Foundation to realise what an alternative legacy could look like.
(Anup Surendranath is an assistant professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Research Project at the National Law University, Delhi.)
The judgment in Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala, whose 40th anniversary falls today, was crucial in upholding the supremacy of the Constitution and preventing authoritarian rule by a single party
Exactly forty years ago, on April 24, 1973, Chief Justice Sikri and 12 judges of the Supreme Court assembled to deliver the most important judgment in its history. The case of Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala had been heard for 68 days, the arguments commencing on October 31, 1972, and ending on March 23, 1973. The hard work and scholarship that had gone into the preparation of this case was breathtaking. Literally hundreds of cases had been cited and the then Attorney-General had made a comparative chart analysing the provisions of the Constitutions of 71 different countries!
All this effort was to answer just one main question: was the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution unlimited? In other words, could Parliament alter, amend, abrogate any part of the Constitution even to the extent of taking away all fundamental rights?
Article 368, on a plain reading, did not contain any limitation on the power of Parliament to amend any part of the Constitution. There was nothing that prevented Parliament from taking away a citizen’s right to freedom of speech or his religious freedom. But the repeated amendments made to the Constitution raised a doubt: was there any inherent or implied limitation on the amending power of Parliament?
The 703-page judgment revealed a sharply divided court and, by a wafer-thin majority of 7:6, it was held that Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution so long as it did not alter or amend “the basic structure or essential features of the Constitution.” This was the inherent and implied limitation on the amending power of Parliament. This basic structure doctrine, as future events showed, saved Indian democracy and Kesavananda Bharati will always occupy a hallowed place in our constitutional history.
Supreme Court v Indira Gandhi
It is supremely ironical that the basic structure theory was first introduced by Justice Mudholkar eight years earlier by referring to a 1963 decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Chief Justice Cornelius — yes, Pakistan had a Christian Chief Justice and, later, a Hindu justice as well — had held that the President of Pakistan could not alter the “fundamental features” of their Constitution.
The Kesavananda Bharati case was the culmination of a serious conflict between the judiciary and the government, then headed by Mrs Indira Gandhi. In 1967, the Supreme Court took an extreme view, in the Golak Nath case, that Parliament could not amend or alter any fundamental right. Two years later, Indira Gandhi nationalised 14 major banks and the paltry compensation was made payable in bonds that matured after 10 years! This was struck down by the Supreme Court, although it upheld the right of Parliament to nationalise banks and other industries. A year later, in 1970, Mrs Gandhi abolished the Privy Purses. This was a constitutional betrayal of the solemn assurance given by Sardar Patel to all the erstwhile rulers. This was also struck down by the Supreme Court. Ironically, the abolition of the Privy Purses was challenged by the late Madhavrao Scindia, who later joined the Congress Party.
Smarting under three successive adverse rulings, which had all been argued by N.A. Palkhivala, Indira Gandhi was determined to cut the Supreme Court and the High Courts to size and she introduced a series of constitutional amendments that nullified the Golak Nath, Bank Nationalisation and Privy Purses judgments. In a nutshell, these amendments gave Parliament uncontrolled power to alter or even abolish any fundamental right.
These drastic amendments were challenged by Kesavananda Bharati, the head of a math in Kerala, and several coal, sugar and running companies. On the other side, was not only the Union of India but almost all the States which had also intervened. This case had serious political overtones with several heated exchanges between N.A. Palkhivala for the petitioners and H.M. Seervai and Niren De, who appeared for the State of Kerala and the Union of India respectively.
The infamous Emergency was declared in 1975 and, by then, eight new judges had been appointed to the Supreme Court. A shocking attempt was made by Chief Justice Ray to review the Kesavananda Bharati decision by constituting another Bench of 13 judges. In what is regarded as the finest advocacy that was heard in the Supreme Court, Palkhivala made an impassioned plea for not disturbing the earlier view. In a major embarrassment to Ray, it was revealed that no one had filed a review petition. How was this Bench then constituted? The other judges strongly opposed this impropriety and the 13-judge Bench was dissolved after two days of arguments. The tragic review was over but it did irreversible damage to the reputation of Chief Justice A.N. Ray.
Constitutional rights saved
If the majority of the Supreme Court had held (as six judges indeed did) that Parliament could alter any part of the Constitution, India would most certainly have degenerated into a totalitarian State or had one-party rule. At any rate, the Constitution would have lost its supremacy. Even Seervai later admitted that the basic structure theory preserved Indian democracy. One has to only examine the amendments that were made during the Emergency. The 39th Amendment prohibited any challenge to the election of the President, Vice-President, Speaker and Prime Minister, irrespective of the electoral malpractice. This was a clear attempt to nullify the adverse Allahabad High Court ruling against Indira Gandhi. The 41st Amendment prohibited any case, civil or criminal, being filed against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister or the Governors, not only during their term of office but forever. Thus, if a person was a governor for just one day, he acquired immunity from any legal proceedings for life. If Parliament were indeed supreme, these shocking amendments would have become part of the Constitution.
Thanks to Kesavananda Bharati, Palkhivala and the seven judges who were in the majority, India continues to be the world’s largest democracy. The souls of Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar and all the founding fathers of our Constitution can really rest in peace.
(Arvind P. Datar is a senior advocate of the Madras High Court.)