It would be naïve to believe that men who man the judicial wing of our country are strikingly different from the rest of the nation. Obviously, this has no sociological or scientific basis. It is trite to state that differences of opinion and intolerance thereof are on the alarming increase in the polity and this is surely bound to reflect in all branches of the government.
It is, therefore, no big surprise that four senior judges of the apex court decided to reach out to the public and use the media for it. This is in sharp contrast to the hitherto used methods of judges speaking only through their verdicts or voicing concern at seminars.
I have grown up as a lawyer hearing utterances of contempt and cynicism towards the Fourth Estate (whether they deserve it is a different debate). How did these Daniels then suddenly find credibility in the media and relate to them or expect of them to carry forward their soul-cleansing message? Paradigm shift? Convenience?
There has been an uproar on the action taken by the senior puisne judges of the apex court. While some see it as high-ranking judges calling the bluff, others see it as a coup d’état.
One aspect of the matter that appears to have its impact in the din and dust is the statement made by the four senior judges. They state that the communication is to “highlight certain judicial orders passed by this court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system and the independence of the high courts …”
While the entire debate seems to be about how first among the equals the CJI is (is he different from the State High Court Chief Justices – an office occupied by the authors of the communication), what is lost sight of is the allegation that “judicial orders have adversely affected the justice delivery system”.
How come this serious allegation has lost precedence over the demand for the Chief having to constitute benches and that senior judges are asking for what they should be hearing? How come the central theme of transparency that runs through the letter does not spell out a single incident that mentions the “judicial orders” that have adversely impacted the justice delivery system? Does the soul cleansing stop at part exposure and does it not require the Learned Daniels to spell out to the nation what those “judicial orders” are?
The foursome has indeed received kudos from certain respectable sections of our society, including one who has been chastised by the Chief Justice. There is a growing tendency, I believe, which points out to a collective eagerness to applaud the rebel. Often the context and the cause are forgotten. It is nice to see someone rebel against the system. In the context of the iron-fisted vertical like the Indian Judicial system, even more so.
Here at the cost of meandering, I must register a feeble voice of protest at the manner in which many (if not most) judges have come to adorn the cloak of unapproachable respectability and thereby integrity. Since the senior judges of the apex court speak in unison about judicial orders affecting the justice delivery system, they owe the nation some detailing of this alarming allegation.
They also need to take a sub-aerial view at how judges deal with matters, lawyers and how on an everyday basis, lawyers at different courts are made to feel that their cases depend upon the whim of their Lordships.
Insofar as judicial behaviour is concerned, the foursome may well have touched a raw nerve. Three decades and more after being at the Bar, I recently suffered a summary rejection by a judge of the civil court who refused to take up a brief specifically allotted to him. I did not go public about it.
Many colleagues at the Bar would recall how their requests are not just turned off or rejected but done with disdain. We take this all and more with the wisdom that that is how a system works when under pressure. The citizen does not go to the media about it. Much less after taking the stance that media cannot be relied upon!!
The tendency to applaud the rebel is a fine action by the polity, especially when heterodoxy is scorned at. However, being a rebel in it itself does not make the rebellious action correct. Assuming in this incident, that the cause was right, the men surely right, I would still believe that the method was suspect and leaves a lot more questions than offers answers.
The nation has for long been under the assumption that all is fine and perfect with the Indian judicial system. It needed hallowed insiders to scream
about the Emperor’s New Clothes. The nation may well be shaken.
Intriguingly, the Bar at the Supreme Court has said a few things. Even the media has not really bothered to garner impressions from across the legal pundits and citizens across the country.
Meanwhile, one of the judges has been placed on a par with Justice HR Khanna. Compliments. However, I am certain that the recipient would feel a tad embarrassed for the compare. There is also a huge in-house group that reacts typically with shock and scorn. However, while rebel is fine, is this a case of rebel with a translucent cause!!
(The author is a designated Senior Advocate)