Expressing his anguish over what he called the current “disastrous” phase in the Supreme Court, former Chief Justice of India Justice R M Lodha warned that if the High Courts treat the SC crisis as a precedent, “the judicial system in the country will turn chaotic”.
“…The phase we are seeing in the SC today, is to say the least, disastrous. It is high time the collegiality is restored. The judges with the different approaches and viewpoints must find a common ground — that takes the SC forward and that maintains the independence of the judiciary. I find that the independence of judiciary is non-negotiable and it is for the CJI, who is the leader of the court, to show statesmanship. He has to take all the brothers and sisters together,” Justice Lodha said.
He was speaking here Tuesday evening at the launch of author, journalist and former Minister Arun Shourie’s latest book “Anita Gets Bail: What are our courts doing? What should we do about them? (HarperCollins)”
“When judges don’t ensure independence of judiciary, it is very bad for democracy. For a democracy to thrive, independence of judiciary is a must. And that must come from the top. And that must come from the SC…It is true that in Supreme Court there are no junior judges and senior judges. But then senior judges also must get their due. SC is no place for personal grudges. One may have a difference of opinion. You don’t impugn the person. You may challenge his viewpoint. Collegiality is sine qua non for an institution like SC. Because collegiality mitigates personal choices and preferences and lets you find a common ground for the betterment of the institution and in the interest of justice,” Justice Lodha said.
Twice in the last few months, he said, the SC has emphasized that the CJI is master of the roster. “Yes, he is. But does that give him the authority to do what he wants? Can he exercise this power arbitrarily? It is the prerogative of the Chief Justice to be fair and generous in the distribution of the cases. But also to appear to be so…allocation of cases in the SC has to be fair and in the interest of the institution,” Justice Lodha said.
Eminent jurist and senior advocate Fali S Nariman, referring to the book, underlined the long road ahead in reforming the judicial system. “…Too much law, too little justice, too much rhetoric, too little reform. This sums up, in a few words as possible, our Indian experience. We need more courts. We need more judges. But judges who are collegial. And are conscious of their shared responsibility and are able to accommodate one another,” he said.
Former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A P Shah was critical of the role of the Chief Justice of India. He said that the SC verdict quashing petitions seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI judge Brijmohan Harikishan Loya was “utterly wrong.” Calling the verdict an example of incorrect jurisprudence, Justice Shah said that the SC bench had relied on statements made by judicial officers without conducting any cross-examination; had disregarded statements by some members of the judge’s family; called their allegations mere “hearsay,” and had even questioned the motives of the petitioners.
“The SC acted as a court of appeal and granted some sort of acquittal without the benefit of a judgment of trial court,” Justice Shah said.
Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai reads excerpts from the book which included an extract from a judgment by Justice Sureshwar Thakur that the Supreme Court later found “not possible to comprehend.”
Calling upon institutions and professionals — media and civil servants and lawyers — to stand up and be counted when they are under assault by what he called a Government that wanted “total control,” Shourie urged “eminent” people on stage and in the audience to speak to the Chief Justice and to convince him of the need to correct the course.
The book gets its title from Shourie’s poignant real-life experience of an arrest warrant being issued against his ailing wife Anita Shourie for evading summons that had never been served for building an illegal house that was never built on a plot that she didn’t own.
Among those who were present at the launch were BJP veteran L K Advani, former Finance Ministers P Chidambaram and Yashwant Sinha; former NSA Shivshankar Menon; members of Shourie’s family, including wife Anita and son Adit; advocates Prashant Bhushan and Dushyant Dave and former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan.