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The holding of Press Conference by Supreme Court Judges: A threat to the democracy

It is deeply saddening to see an institution that plays the role of a guardian and watchdog of freedoms, and the upholder of Constitutional order should be understood to be ill-equipped when it comes to listening to its grievances.

A united and robust judiciary is no doubts an essential condition for a strong and vibrant democracy. If the judiciary of the country is divided and polarized, it will have a direct impact on the very survival of democracy.

What happened on the 12th�January 2018 when four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court addressed the nation through a press conference is something which could and should have been avoided. They had raised two major concerns � first, regarding the manner in which then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra was constituting benches for important cases, and second, regarding finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges which was still pending with the government.

Internal matters should not have been brought to the public for discussion because neither the public nor the government could give any relief. As a result of this press conference, the dignity of the judges has gone down in the eyes of the people. People would feel that if they can't resolve the disputes between themselves, how would they solve their conflicts? Public confidence in the system is the foundation of the strong judiciary.

Politically, judiciary's internal trust deficit spilling out in the open could become another reason to question the institution. Because soon after the press conference the opposition did not take much time in gaining political mileage out of this mutiny and started casting aspersions on the honourable CJI.

Let us imagine the said incident setting a precedent where judges of the High Court or Supreme Court start bringing their differences into the public domain. Consequently, there won't be any democracy but absolute anarchy as democracy can't survive when the institutions which protect it are undermined by the very forces which are supposed to protect it. Moreover, by violating the code of judicial ethics, it has diminished the moral standing of the judges itself.

The judges should have followed the proper mechanism to address their grievances. This incident was unprecedented and has undermined the reputation of the Supreme Court of India. The action of the four judges has cast aspersions on one of the most important pillars of the democracy. They have caused far greater damage to the integrity and reputation of the judiciary.

Thus, holding of press conferences by judges to give vent to their dissatisfaction about the internal working of the court is prima facie, ex facie as well, been an indiscreet action dangerously treading close to being dubbed as an imbecile. Let us pause and reflect on what those judges sought to achieve by holding such a conference. Had it been?
  1. They wanted to discuss the conduct of CJI to criticize Chief Justice of India's official functioning or discharge of official business by him. If so, would it not amount to contempt of court by trying to cast aspersion on the credibility of the court? Had any political party or someone from lower judiciary or bar or any member of public done so, it would have been taken very seriously by court and media would have gone into a frenzy of maddening debate over it. But who would monitor the monitor? And they escaped without any action against them.
  2. Did they seek to malign CJI to prompt impeachment of CJI by casting aspersion on him?
  3. Did they mean to say that the court has been working in partisan manner and has been amenable to manipulation by forces outside it or inside it?
  4. Whom did they seek to be the final arbiter of the dispute raked up by them?
  5. Did they seek the democratic forces, the representatives of public, for that matter parliament to intervene to put their house or judiciary in order?
  6. Would it not be a natural corollary to assume under these particular circumstances that judiciary can't be or ought not to be given a free hand in judicial appointments given to factionalism prevailing therein?
  7. If the working of judiciary or CJI is causing a threat to democracy, it would be a natural corollary to assume that democratic force, i.e. elected representatives of people ( for that matter Parliament ) should intervene to control judiciary to bring in probity and transparency in the working of the judiciary. If that be so, it would be decried in unison by the judiciary and certain factions of media to be very much antithetic to the tenets of democracy as being prejudicial to independence of the judiciary. In such a paradoxical situation intervention of Parliament as a face of democracy would have to control judiciary to ensure its independence is an irony.
  8. Did they mean to malign CJI alone without naming the other members of the judiciary to whom the selective cases have been allotted to get expected or pre-decided judgement? Would it not mean to call their brethren as corrupt or amenable to external or internal influence?
  9. Why have they been so much concerned about non-allotment of certain cases to them as a bench; do they mean to say that they are more competent or more honest than other members of the judiciary; particularly when they themselves claim the CJI to be one or first among equals. If they have all been equal and equally competent, then they should be no cause of concern for them as to who gets which case. The judges are supposed to deliver justice in every case, be it a high profile case or non-high profile. They ought to have faith in the ability of other judges to deliver the right judgment rather than ostentatiously exhibiting self-professed holier than thou sentiment.
Two years down the line, these questions, along with the issues raised by the four judges in the Press Conference, still largely remain unanswered.

Written by Komal Chauhan
Research scholar at GGSIPU, Delhi�

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