Judges Press Conference
- January 20, 2018
- Posted by: admin
- Category: General Knowledge
Order, order : Who will judge the judge?
Friday, 12 January 2018 will be etched in Indian history for a rather peculiar event- four prominent senior judges of the Supreme Court called a press conference to discuss certain grievances related to the current state of affairs in the administration of the Apex Court.
The Press Conference
The judges who addressed the press conference were Justice J Chelameshwar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph.
To begin with, there was a bevy of reporters and mediapersons, eagerly waiting to hear what it was that had made the judges break convention of maintaining a distance from direct interaction with the media. Justice Chelameshwar said that this was an extraordinary event in the history of the institution, and that they were compelled to act in this way because the Chief Justice could not be persuaded to mend the ways of the court. What Justice Chelameshwar said soon after, led to further conjecture and speculation: “We met CJI this morning. We collectively tried to persuade CJI that certain things aren’t in order so take remedial measures but unfortunately our efforts failed,” says Justice Chelameshwar.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is set to take the reins as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) from the incumbent CJI Justice Dipak Misra this October, highlighted, “It is discharge of debt to the nation which has brought us here”.
In response to a question on whether the CJI should be impeached, Justice Chelameshwar said that it was for the nation to decide.
The judiciary, its workings and procedure of appointment of judges have been closely guarded matters for long.
Moreover, the CJI’s position in the Indian context is one that is projecting strong ‘centralized tendencies’ with no concurrent accountability mechanisms in sight. The SC emphasized on the position of the CJI as the ‘Master of the Roster’ in its 2017 order in the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India case. This ‘master of the roster’ denotes the privilege of the CJI to constitute Benches to hear cases as well as when the cases would be listed for hearing. Theoretically, this privilege only extends to administrative functioning of the court and for adjudicatory issues, the CJI is only the “first among equals”, which means that he has no superior claim over his fellow judges. However, practically, the implications of this in the Indian context are greater. In India, SC judges usually sit in Benches of a single or two judges to decide a matter while in the US, the strength of all nine judges sits to hear cases while in the UK Supreme Court, out of the 12 judges, there are panels of atleast five judges while ruling on a matter. This means the discretion of the CJI to decide which judges will hear a case is nil in the US while it is relatively curtailed in the UK, as opposed to India. Moreover, the smaller Benches in India lead to a situation where conflicting decisions may be given on the same or similar questions of law within a short span of time, leading to uncertainty of law. This tendency has risen in the context of rising number of Public Interest Litigations being filed and judges interpreting the law their own way in many cases, giving the outcome the semblance of a ‘lottery’ rather than based on uniformly applicable legal principles. The power of the CJI as head of Court administration and thereby listing cases for hearing gains traction in India, where there is an enormous number of pending cases and thus, listing/ not listing (judicial evasion) of a case, will effectively make or break the case for parties.
The CJAR case in 2017 was an example where though there were doubts about the possible involvement of the CJI himself in a case, the matter was assigned to a Bench by the CJI overruling the decision of allotment of the case, taken by another Bench. This gave the impression that the principle of nemo judex in causa sua (no one shall be a judge in one’s own cause) did not apply to the highest Court of the land.
While the independence of the judiciary in its decision-making abilities is to be cherished, however, this most recent doubt raised about its workings from within its fold cannot be swept under the rug. The judges spoke up about the need for reforms in the way the highest court in the country is functioning, and as is usually the case, diagnosing the problem with an institution is the first step to reaching a solution. The fact that there may be problems plaguing the judiciary is not cause for rejoicing, but in a democracy, such questioning is healthy and much-needed.
The intent behind the conference is not under question, after all, the judges are not power-hungry or publicity-hungry individuals looking to gain political mileage through a stunt. However, the way that the grievances were aired have garnered mixed reactions:
- If the judges had a valid grievance, the ideal process would have been for all the Supreme Court members to address such issues together in a Full Court meeting (reportedly, this procedure might be adopted soon to address the grievances of the four judges);
- There are many channels available to try and resolve such issues, other than airing them through a public conference;
- The proceedings during the media address gave ground to further conjecture, and lack of clarity on the exact nature of grievances, with people clamouring for copies of the said ‘li’ that the judges had previously sent to the CJI listing their grievances;
- Most of all, this conference broke convention, setting out internal problems of the Supreme Court out in the open, endangering the confidence people repose in the judiciary, especially the highest tier in the country.
The manner of the airing of the grievances aside, the substance thereof should not be mired in controversy: “There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justice of this Court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment This must be guarded against at all costs. We are not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departure have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent”. One of the matters in contention was the assignment of a petition seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI Judge B.H. Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Considering the gravamen of the situation, the highest echelons of the judiciary need to solve these issues such that- ‘justice is not only done but must also be seen to be done.’