January 13, 2018 5:32 pm
By Siddhant Mohan, TwoCircles.net
Yesterday’s event of four Supreme court judges addressing the media-the event which was termed rather “historic” by many-has caught a lot of amount of attention from media as well as from the general public. But the same event has also resulted in creating chaos in the judicial fraternity spread among Indian courts at various levels. The basic question which has come forward is: Has the event opened the gates of total chaos in the judiciary of the country? And many judges believe the answer is yes.
Judiciary guidelines issued by Department of Justice (DOJ) do not allow the sitting judges of any lower court to hold any press conference or comment to the media. Moreover, the guidelines also mandate the sitting judges to not go to any public functions as a guest or speaker. All the lower court judges have to seek permission from their respective high courts if they are willing to participate in the functions, and the participation depends on the high court’s nod.
“This is only at the lower court. Sitting judges at the higher courts cannot even be present on these occasions at any cost. The laws were made to limit the judiciary at a respective bar,” said one of the judges appointed in one of the lower courts of Bihar in a conversation with TwoCircles.net.
There is a fair chance that when Justice Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph came before the media on Friday, they would have thought of the repercussions and questions that will rise against them.
“The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court of India, said on Friday.
But the judges appointed in the lower courts of the country are worried and speculate that the judges wouldn’t have thought of the whole legal set up spread in the country. “Now if the sitting judges of the Supreme Court can hold a press conference, it can be a lot easier for a low-rank judge like the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) to hold a press conference against any district’s magistrate or any regulatory body. There will be a total anarchy in the system,” said the judge from Bihar.
The major concern of the SC judges is that they have alleged a sort of monarchy in bench allotment in Supreme Court and have written to the Chief Justice Dipak Misra regarding the same two months back. One of the judges from Delhi told TwoCircles.net, “There are several benches in the apex court which have been involved in making money, and the debate around working of such benches does not come out easily.”
“The major concern of the four judges who held the press conference was the fact that CJI was allocating important socio-political cases to such benches who are long alleged to be involved in making money,” said the judge from Delhi on the condition of anonymity.
“There have been instances when cases with far-reaching consequences for the nation and institution has been assigned by the Chief Justice of this court selectively to the benches of their preferences without any rational basis for such assignments. This must be guarded against at all costs,” the four judges said on Friday.
The term “bench hunting” or “forum shopping” is famous in the Indian justice system. The term is used when a particular litigant-with the help of a lawyer-tries to manage his case hearing by a particular judge who may give the litigant a favourable decision. In December 2014, Supreme Court of India raised serious objection to the ‘bench hunting’ citing that the trend “may eventually end people’s faith in the Indian justice system”.
In March 2014, senior Supreme Court lawyer Dushyant Dave came into the courtroom of the then Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and said that the practice of bench hunting was in the practice in the apex court too, forcing CJI to initiate a probe against the same. This was the first time when the general public came to know the existence of possible corruption in the premises of Supreme Court also, which has been regarded as one of the most pious legal institutes in the country. Dave was elected as president of Supreme Court bar association later that year.
If our sources to be believed, the major concern behind four sitting judges conducting press conference is the process of “bench hunting”, which apparently still exists in the apex court as well.
Many believe that four sitting judges should have gone to the President of India before taking such unprecedented step, but a large section of the society still believes that going to the president would not have made much difference as the President holds very little rights to interfere or convene into such matters.
N Santosh Hegde, the former Supreme Court justice and former Solicitor General of India, told PTI yesterday, “For some reason or the other, their cause is justified, (but) relief they are seeking is wrong … going to the media? No. Judiciary was always considered as a family. Family disputes are never taken to the streets.”
“I feel very sad about it. I am sure they (the four judges) are hurt with many things which ought not to have happened. But for heaven’s sake, what they did was wrong. I don’t think this damage can ever be repaired,” PTI quoted Hegde.
Other judges believe differently. “What they did is correct…they showed that liberal value is still left in the judiciary, they must have thought of all the abuses and comments arising from their action,” said one of the judges posted in a lower court in Uttar Pradesh.
It is the not the first time when the Judges have come forward before the media. Justice CS Karnan of the Madras High Court held a press conference in his chamber alleging caste-based harassment against him that was being done by some judges of the same court. In January 2017, Justice Karnan wrote to Prime Minister naming 20 people of Supreme Court and High Courts that were possibly involved in corruption. On May 8, 2017, Karnan sentenced CJI JS Khehar and seven other judges of Supreme Court five-year of rigorous imprisonment after holding them under SC/ST Atrocities act 1989 and amendment act of 2015. However, Supreme Court charged Karnan six months of imprisonment of very next day. Justice Karnan walked out of the jail on Thursday this week.
Activists and social workers have alleged that why the Supreme Court judges did not come forward when Justice Karnan was constantly raising the issue of casteism since 2011. The judges at the Supreme Court might not have any response to this, but Prof Mahendra Pratap Singh at Law College at BHU answers, “The points raised by Justice Karnan are worrisome, but that is a totally different case. Karnan was raising the issue of caste-based discrimination, but here what we are seeing that the judge is going against the policies and principles over which the judiciary is based.”
For Singh, four judges of the Supreme Court-who are also part of the collegium along with the CJI Dipak Misra-did nothing wrong by coming before the media. “Why do judges tend to behave like Gods? There should be some accountability. I welcome their effort of coming to the media exposing the corruption and communalism in the judiciary,” said Prof Singh. “Such steps will bring more transparency in the judiciary rather than creating problems,” he added.
The issue started in November 2017 when the CJI -as the “master of the roster”-declared that it is the prerogative of the CJI to decide which case has to be heard by which judge. This followed a debate led by senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan who was the petitioner in Medical College case in which Dipak Misra was named in the FIR. The CJI’s ruling annulled the Chelameswar’s order when he demanded to constitute a five-bench committee to hear the case against Misra. On their Friday briefing, four judges said that CJI is just “first among the equal, nothing more or nothing less.”
“You can see that many people have now started abusing the four judges, and apparently batting for Dipak Misra. Misra is known to have links with RSS and BJP, and he has been assigning political cases, like that of Amit Shah, to the benches on an arbitrary basis, making the accused’s escape easy. So the ones hereby saving Dipak Misra are indirectly exposing his links with the ruling party or RSS,” said a judge based in a Delhi court.
Karl Marx had once said: “Every fight either ends in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” Members of the Indian judiciary we spoke to believe that the four judges, who are already in the light of questioning since Friday, should come forward to curb the corrupt practices in Indian judiciary at every level. Otherwise, the long tussle between the Government and Judiciary will obviously take a toll on the latter.Tags: world
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