Very recently social media was flooded with pictures of Chief Justice of
India Sharad Arvind Bobde sitting on a Harley Davidson superbike, prompting
several reactions among general public.
Before elevation to bench, justice Bobde was an ardent biker when he was a
lawyer in Nagpur. He was photographed checking out a guest’s motorbike at a
ceremony in Raj Bhawan of Maharashtra. In the images, shared by several lawyers,
Justice Bobde can be seen sitting on a parked Harley Davidson CVO 2020 and is
surrounded by people wearing masks.
Well, it's no secret that Chief Justice of India, Sharad Arvind Bobde is
fascinated with motorcycles and on several occasions, he has expressed his
fondness for bikes. On 28 June 2020, he familiarised people with his new avatar
when he was pictured while checking out a Harley Davidson.
The reactions of general public and legal fraternity were mixed by and large. A
few were surprised to see the Chief Justice in this new Avatar and took it on
lighter note but at the same time a few netizens criticised the photograph
labelling it a public stunt unsuitable and unbecoming to the conduct of the
Chief Justice of India.
It is true that conduct ( even private act) of a judge always remains at
surveillance and scrutinized by public. This is because of the fact that this
wing ( judiciary) is more trusted in eyes of Public and more independent than
the executive or legislative branch.
The conduct of a judge starting from Chief Justice of India to a Munsif in
Taluka( lower Judiciary) is monitored continuesoly at several levels. The
conduct of a judge in public as well as private life is expected to be of
highest moral values. So many restrictions are imposed on a judge and he
generally remains aloof and in solitude in order to maintain the decorum of the
Judiciary as a whole.
The superindence of judges of lower court is done by respective High Court of
the state ( article 227 of constitution). The code of conduct and ethics are
made by High court for the judges of subordinate courts. The civil judges or
Judicial magistrates are not permitted to mingle with society.
They can't attend the unofficial functions. They are even prohibited to attend a
school function as Chief guest. The code of conduct of the judges of
constitutional courts ( Supreme and High Courts) is made by Supreme Court of
India. How the judges of these courts will conduct in public and private life,
is prescribed in a charter called Restatement of Values of Judicial Life
adopted by Supreme Court on 7 May 1997. It is a code of Judicial ethics and
serves as a guide for independent and fair judiciary, paving the way for the
impartial administration of justice.
Now, before we minutely scrutinize the photo ops by justice Bobde on Harley
Davidson bike, it is apt to know the 16 principles of conduct for Judges
embodied in above mentioned charter.
The code comprises following points:
- Justice must not merely be done but it must also be seen to be done. The
behaviour and conduct of members of the higher judiciary must reaffirm the
people’s faith in the impartiality of the judiciary. Accordingly, any act of
a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court, whether in official or
personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of this perception, has to
- A judge should not contest the election to any office of a club, society
or other association; further he shall not hold such elective office except
in a society or association connected with the law.
- Close association with individual members of the bar, particularly those
who practice in the same court, shall be eschewed.
- A judge should not permit any member of his immediate family, such as
spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close
relative, if a member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated
in any manner with a cause to be dealt with by him.
- No member of his family, who is a member of the Bar, shall be permitted
to use the residence in which the judge actually resides or other facilities
for professional work.
- A judge should practice a degree of aloofness consistent with the
dignity of his office.
- A judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a member of his
family, a close relation or a friend is concerned.
- A judge shall not enter into public debate or express his views in
public on political matters or on matters that are pending or are likely to
arise for judicial determination.
- A judge is expected to let his judgments speak for themselves. He shall
not give interviews to the media.
- A judge shall not accept gifts or hospitality except from his family,
close relations and friends.
- A judge shall not hear and decide a matter of a company in which he
holds shares unless he has disclosed his interest and no objection to his
hearing and deciding the matter is raised.
- A judge shall not speculate in shares, stocks or the like.
- A judge should not engage directly or indirectly in trade or business,
either by himself or in association with any other person. (Publication of a
legal treatise or any activity in the nature of a hobby shall not be
construed as trade or business).
- A judge should not ask for, accept contributions or otherwise actively
associate himself with the raising of any fund for any purpose.
- A judge should not seek any financial benefit in the form of a
perquisite or privilege attached to his office unless it is clearly
available. Any doubt in this regard must be resolved and clarified through
the Chief Justice.
- Every judge must at all times be conscious that he is under public gaze
and there should be no act or omission by him which is unbecoming of the
high office he occupies and the public esteem in which that office is held.
Now, from these 16 principles of conduct, one thing can be easily inferred that
there is a requirement of highest degree of ethics on part of judge of high
court or supreme Court. Judge of higher Judiciary is a constitutional post and
no other authority can direct or mandate a judge to behave in a particular away
except the judge himself. A judge is accountable for his conduct within and
without the court.
Now if we try to fit the conduct of justice Bobde in pigeon hole of these 16
principles of conduct then barring point no 6 and 16, no other code of conduct
is relevant for the act of honourable justice under discussion.
Now as per point no 6 of the aforesaid charter, a judge should practice a degree
of aloofness consistent with the dignity of his office. The term aloofness
is of very wide connotation and no exhaustive list can be prepared to
distinguish any act of a judge to describe it as Aloof
Aloofness can never be a complete seclusion away from society or general
awareness. A judge can not be disconnected from society when he has to decide
the matters related to that very society. Aloofness should be confined only to
restrict a judge to socialize with members of bar, political leaders or other
public servants who are interested parties in most of the cases before such
Now, in the case under discussion, few netizens on twitter were very quick to
find out the owner of the said bike, who was alleged to be a local BJP leader of
Maharashtra.( The author doesn't authenticate the claim so made about ownership
of bike). In the age of social media with overdose of fake news, the burden lies
on judges only to save the dignity of adminstration of justice.
Now , coming back on the charter of code of conduct for Judges, according to
point no 16, every judge must at all the times be conscious that he is under
the public gaze and there should be not act on part of judge which is unbecoming
of the office of a judge.
The public gaze ,here is more important when a judge does any private act.
Within the court, the conduct of a judge is largely limited to official work,
but without court, any act of judge is examined conspicuously. Judges become
popular only because of their conduct inside the court room through their
A judge is not called by his or her name rather he or she is pronounced as a
'Court'. This is because of the fact that judges do not have individuality. If
individuality is given more importance, then at the end of day it may create a
specific notional perception in the mind of public about the conduct of that
The perception of public is directly proportional to the trust created. In the
age of social media, the dignity of court is threatened. No device or law is
developed to contain this menace. After every Judgement by a particular judge,
undignified and unrealistic comments are passed about the character of a judge.
As per their convenience, the troll armies of different affiliation, attack
the honest judges for their Judgements. The millions of social media accounts
openly without fear of any contempt proceedings link or affiliate a particular
judge with a particular political party.
The driving of Harley Davidson bike by Chief Justice in no way can be termed as
a mis-conduct on the part of a judge. This purely shows his affection towards
bike riding and can not be termed as unbecoming conduct of a judge. A judge
cannot be expected deaf and dumb. But it is equally true that such act are
scrutinized under public gaze. The public has no form or size. It consists of
different persons with different motives and affiliations.
The judge will have to monitor his own conduct in view of public at large. There
was no sin committed by Justice Bobde, instead he should be praised for his
affection and love, which he has maintained as a hobby for bike riding. But
simultaneously, judges will have to take care that such avoidable instances do
not give opportunity to troll army on social media to tarnish the image of
Written By: Hari Mudgil
is Delhi based Lawyer and research scholar