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Independent Judiciary: An Essential Feature Of A Thriving Democracy

Judiciary is one of the three most important organs of a political organization. It is the body of independent officials who interpret and enforce the law of the state. Judiciary has a very significant role to play. In every state, the citizens expect justice at the hands of their administrators who are entrusted with the task of maintaining a good government in the country.

In the words of Laski:
"The judiciary of state may be defined as that body of officials whose work consists in the resolution of a complaint, whether between subjects or between state and subject, that the laws of the state have been a matter of fairly common agreement among thinkers that the judicial power should be regarded in its nature and even more in the persons who administer it as separate from other political authority."

Protection of an individual's rights should be the primary concern of the state. For the realization of this, the presence of an independent judiciary is necessary.

Independence of the judiciary means a fair and impartial judicial system of a country, which makes its decisions without any interference from the executive or legislative branch of government. The Indian constitution guarantees judicial independence, which was enshrined in the Kesavananda Bharati (1973) judgment as part of the 'Basic Structure of Constitution.' The executive and legislative branches of government are held in check by the judiciary, which is in accordance with Article 13's principle of "separation of powers".

For the survival of liberal democracy, an impartial and independent judiciary is essential. Without it, liberal democracy cannot flourish. Under the scheme of the constitution, the court is the final interpreter of law. As a result, judicial independence is essential to democracy because it is the judiciary that aids in the implementation of the Rule of Law and the safeguarding of human rights. However, the concept of independence is a broad one that encompasses concepts such as impartiality, accountability, efficiency, and respect for other government institutions.

According to James Bryce, "There is no better test of excellence of a government than the efficiency of its judicial system."

Some important conditions for the independent working of a judiciary are listed below:
  1. Guarantee of fixed tenure, subject to a limited process of removal or discipline for misconduct or disability;
  2. Fixed and adequate compensation;
  3. Sufficiently high minimum qualifications in education and experience; and
  4. Limited judicial immunity.

The most important element is an assurance that judges will not be removed or disciplined because of their decisions. Tenure, either for life or until the specified retirement age, is the strongest way to provide this assurance. The tenure should be fairly long as that 20 to 30 years so that the judges may act in a free and fair manner. Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, Judges in a few American states, Canada, France, Germany, India, and other common and civil law countries have had permanent tenure. Protection against arbitrary removal is unquestionably vital during these limited terms.

Accountability necessitates a mechanism that is specifically intended to discipline or remove judges who have engaged in substantial poor behavior or have become mentally or physically incapacitated.

Judges' salaries and allowances must be high enough to allow them to live well without having to rely on undesirable sources of income, such as fees for side work or bribery.

Furthermore, pay must be competitive enough to attract the most capable and qualified members of the legal profession to the judiciary.

The judges should not be entrusted with executive or administrative duties. The liberty of the people is in peril if the administration and adjudication work is in the same hands. One of the Directive Principles of State Policy (Article 50) established in the Indian Constitution demands the separation of the judiciary and the executive.

Their appointment as a judicial officers should be free from any political interference. Their accountability to the executive would take away their liberty in respect of their judicial functions. The simplest approach to avoid such problems is to appoint judges after a process of selection by independent commissions, ensuring that only people of high caliber and integrity are appointed to crucial judicial positions. High educational standards must be established in order for only deserving applicants to be appointed to positions in the judiciary.

Finally, judges must avoid public contact in order to avoid being subjected to public pressure. It is believed that the judges would succumb to the social courtesy temptations that the public may build for their personal gain.

The independence of the judiciary is dependent on the creation and support of a conducive environment by all state institutions, including the judiciary, as well as public opinion. The independence of the judiciary must also be constantly protected against unforeseen events and changing social, political, and economic conditions. For many years in India, the question of judicial independence has been a source of fervent national discussion.

When the Supreme Court declares a particular Act or a specific Clause of an Act passed by Parliament to be ultra vires of the Indian Constitution, this question becomes crucially significant. The goal is to ensure that adjudication is free of external or executive influences and that the independence of the judiciary under the Indian Constitution is limited to the adjudicatory responsibilities of the courts or tribunals which are protected from becoming a puppet in the hands of the executive.

The fundamental premise of democracy, as envisioned in the Indian Constitution, is that political sovereignty belongs to the people of the country. This sovereignty achieves social reality and dynamic sustainability only when the constitutional instrumentality submits quietly to the sovereign people's broad oversight. However, it is clear that the general public is incapable of monitoring, and disciplining this function.

As a result, checks and balances are required to ensure that power vested in anyone does not go astray and that it remains amendable to constitutional essentials and accountable to those who are the ultimate masters or givers of power. With democratic principles (transparency and accountability) in mind, the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution demarcated and delineated the powers of the three government organs, with the understanding that each organ will power perform its assigned role and strive to bring life to the goals enshrined in the Preamble.

In the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India (1981), the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that "Judges should be stern stuff and tough fire, unbending before power, economic or political, and they must uphold the core principle of the rule of law which says: "Be you ever so high, the law is above you." This is the idea of judicial independence, which is essential for the development of true participatory democracy, the preservation of the rule of law as a dynamic notion, and the provision of social justice to the most vulnerable members of society.

Later in 1993, in the Second Judges Appointment Case, Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association & Others Vs Union of India, another Constitution Bench declared, "Independence of Judiciary is the sine qua non of democracy. So long as the Judiciary remains truly distinct from both the Legislature and the Executive, the general power of the people can never be endangered from any quarters."

In his speech in the Constitution Assembly on June 07, 1949, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed:
"I do not think there is any dispute that there should be a separation between the executive and the judiciary and in fact, all the articles relating to the High Court as well as the Supreme Court have prominently kept that object in mind."

Listed below are the major areas where an independent judiciary plays a key role:
  • Rule of law:
    An independent judiciary is important for the protection of state law and fair judicial administration. The judiciary's function is to interpret the Constitution and laws and ensure that the executive and legislature make decisions in accordance with them.
     
  • Protection of citizens' rights:
    An impartial and independent judiciary safeguards individual rights and delivers impartial justice without any fear of repercussions.
     
  • Prevent arbitrary acts:
    The independent judiciary plays a critical role in regulating the administration's arbitrary actions. It provides redressal to those who have been harmed by the administration's unlawful actions.
     
  • Prevent autocracy:
    Judicial independence is necessary to prevent a democracy from turning into a dictatorship. A democracy would turn into a dictatorship because the government would be able to do whatever it wishes without checks on its limits.
     
  • Fair elections:
    The judiciary's role in determining the legitimacy of presidential, vice presidential, parliamentary, and state legislative elections needs its independence. Therefore, it safeguards the principle of universal adult franchise.
     
  • Accountability to the people:
    The democratic principle of accountability relies heavily on judicial independence. It helps to keep the executive and legislature accountable to the people of the country through judicial activism and judicial review.
     
  • Interpretation of Constitution:
    Without an independent and impartial arbiter of constitutional issues, a written constitution can hardly be effective in practice. Also, it is necessary to restrain governmental organs from exercising powers that may not be sanctioned by the Constitution.

While an independent and impartial court is one of a democracy's cornerstones, the practical ways in which it is implemented are sometimes viewed with suspicion. For example, judges are immune from prosecution for any conduct performed in the course of their judicial duties. They also enjoy immunity from defamation lawsuits for comments they make regarding parties or witnesses during the course of hearings.

Some have suggested that judges are somehow "above the law" because of these notions. However, claiming that judges are above the law is wrong. Judges, like every other citizen, are subject to the law. They can be removed from office on proven grounds of misbehavior or incapacity through the procedure of impeachment.

In the past, there have been instances where the courts have been accused of improper conduct. On January 12, 2018, Former Supreme Court Judge J. Chelameswar, along with his three colleagues from the apex court's collegium - Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, and Kurian Joseph, addressed a press conference and questioned the manner in which the court was being administered by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

He claimed that the judges were forced to speak in front of the media because democracy was in peril and that democracy could not exist without an independent and impartial judiciary. The comment implied that the executive was interfering with the judiciary's ability to function independently. Every decision taken by courts impacts the lives of the citizens and in no way can judicial independence be compromised.

The concept of judicial independence is also essential to justice for each individual because, as Hamilton also said, "No man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of justice, by which he may be a gainer today." Citizens must understand that it is ultimately in their best interest for judges to be unaffected by their policy preferences because they may one day find themselves in a situation where their own cherished rights are politically unpopular.

The judiciary is tasked with keeping all governmental institutions within the confines of the law, thus ensuring that the rule of law is meaningful and effective. When the Legislature breaches its constitutional bounds, the Court can issue writs to halt the proceeding or issue appropriate orders to resume it.

This is the idea of judicial independence, which is essential for the development of true participatory democracy, the preservation of the rule of law, and the provision of social justice to the most vulnerable sections of society. It is the prerequisite for the smooth functioning of the constitution and for the realization of a democratic society.

Bibliography:
  1. H.J. Laski, "Judiciary" in E.A.R. Seligman (ed.), VII Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, (New York, 1967
  2. James Bryce, Modern Democracies, Vol. II, p. 421.
  3. Judicial Independence, available at: https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1465&context=wmborj (Last visited on July 2, 2021).
  4. J.C. Johari, Principles of Modern Political Science 311 (Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2nd Edition, 2009).
  5. Independence of the Judiciary, available at: http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1681-independence-of-the-judiciary-a-constitutional-response.html (Last visited on July 6, 2021).
  6. Dushyant Dave, The unassailable keywords for the judiciary, available at: https://thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-unassailable-keywords-for-the-judiciary/article30906480.ece (Last visited on June 21, 2021).
  7. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "The Importance of Judicial Independence" Stanford Lawyer, May 15, 2008.

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