There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts –Mahatma Gandhi
The judges of the Supreme Court should have asked their conscience whether the decision to address the Press was a well-thought-out decision keeping in view the interest of the great institution. The hurriedly held Press meet, by the judges after their failure to settle the differences with the Chief Justice of India over administrative issues was indeed an unprecedented move. The whole legal fraternity is still shocked, surprised and is yet to form an opinion on what would be the long standing impact of the unprecedented move on the Indian Judicial system.
In recent times, our judicial system had been passing through a critical phase. The world’s largest democracy has seen ups and downs and turbulent times, which it has successfully waded through in the past. The judges, according to themselves, were constrained to address the Press as their grievances were not solved by the CJI. The non-resolving of issues is said to have compelled the judges to take such an extreme step, there is no denial that the issues were essentially administrative in nature. The issues could have been raised among the judges of the Apex Court itself, neither the Press nor the common man is in a position to contribute in any manner in putting the house in order.
The SC has been instrumental in shaping the destiny of this nation, making course corrective interventions at critical times and has been effectively discharging its function all these years. The common man has always looked upon the Apex Court as his last ray of hope and the Apex Court always lived up to this expectation.
The nation has always carefully listened to “the obiter dictas” (observations) with utmost attention, the sermons were discussed at length by the intelligentsia, they used to sum up their public discourses by adding that even the Supreme Court has said so. The nation has reposed its trust in the Supreme Court, the Apex Court is literally the temple of justice, worshipped by the rich, the poor, and the illiterate mass of this country, it’s a worship place where the divisions of religion, caste, and economic hierarchy vanishes and only equality and the defined principles of law prevails.
The Apex Court many a time reminded us, the adage, Fiat justitia ruat cælum , meaning “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” But today the SC faces a crisis, a unique one not thrust upon by the executive but one from within, the differences among the judges, the spilling out of such differences in the public domain would invite serious long term consequences to the justice delivery system. The wounds would definitely heal with the passage of time but the scars are certain to remain forever. The role of the Press in the democracy has to be appreciated; the fourth pillar has a great role in the success of democracy but the present issue agitated through the press has put an indelible mark on the independence of the highest judicial institution. A discourse regarding an impending impeachment has already been initiated in the social media, the laymen who are strangers to the Constitutional terms are using the words liberally, as they have been gifted with an issue to debate on. It’s not clear at this juncture who will impeach whom, as no such terms were used during the dramatic course of events. The commentators, who are aliens to the functioning of the Apex Court, nor who are acclimatized with the intricacies of judicial system and its functioning are commenting as if they are the final authority to settle the issues. We must realize that the issues raised by the judges are about the inner house rules and the administrative hierarchy. Yes, the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to its citizens but the discourse which began yesterday is nothing but a wildfire which would be difficult to douse and by the time the flames are doused, it would have already consumed the long years of trust among the masses, the great institution has gained. It’s an irony that the very same Press, who questioned the rationale of the various decisions the judiciary made in the past was relied upon to air the inner differences. It’s worthwhile to recall that many high profile cases have been intensely debated in the various media forums and the judiciary faced immense difficulty in the light of such media trial to deliver an objective decision. Any just decision, arrived on the basis of the available evidence and the facts were construed as partisan and fingers were indirectly pointed to the judiciary. The Judicial system as a whole, still finds it difficult to overcome the pressure created by such parallel trials conducted by the media by their own standards. The apprehensions and fears expressed in such farcical trials have made the functioning of the judicial system very difficult and on the other hand such media trials have been putting the judges under a cloud of suspicion, when a decision is delivered against the narrative of the media but delivered on the basis of well considered evidences and judicious appreciation of facts and circumstances, these dark clouds loomed over the judges despite their impeccable integrity.
The judges after addressing the Press have returned to discharge their duties, fortunately, there were no counter press statements or meets, as the same would have led to an unending chain of Press meets which would have sung an elegy to the great institution. But history would record 12.01.2018, as a sad day for the Indian judicial system, as from now onwards, there would be a tendency to question every decision of the court. The well considered decisions, delivered here onwards, would be seen through jaundiced eyes, the judges who delivered the decision would be subjected to microscopic introspection, any distant affiliation of even a relative to any ideology would be used as a weapon to bring the judges under the dark cloud of suspicion. The issues could have been discussed in the inner forums, even if such discussions raised the mercurial levels to an all time high, even if it would have resulted in emotional outbursts, it would have been echoed only inside the walls of the Apex Court, it would not have spilled into the public domain, it would not have given an opportunity to those who were waiting to catch the political fish out of the troubled judicial waters. The political leaders stepping into an administrative crisis in the highest judicial institution with an intention to further their political agenda has to be condemned. Prominent opposition politicians who are very much busy visibly making the crisis more complex deserves to be reminded in the strongest possible terms that their agenda would result in the decay of a great institution, which has painstakingly shaped the largest democracy.
Author is an advocate in the Supreme Court