OUTGOING CHIEF Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Monday that the independence of the Indian judiciary “stands erect” amid the “collegiality” among the judges of the Supreme Court.
“The independence of judiciary stands erect and that shall stand erect, and there is the collegiality amongst the brother and sister judges of the court, and the Supreme Court stands supreme, not (just) today, but in times ever to come,” he said, speaking at a farewell organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on his last day in office.
“Popular perceptions, or capacity to build narratives, or any particular leaning, can never guide the course of justice. That is how the neutrality, ethicality and the purity of the stream of justice is maintained. That is how the independence of the judiciary is maintained,” he said.
Stating that he has always dealt with cases with equity, he said: “The tears of a poor man are equal to the tears of a rich man. Tears are tears and, to me, tears are pearls. I have to collect them with equity, justice and my Constitutional perception,” he said.
Praising the outgoing CJI, Chief Justice-designate Ranjan Gogoi said he had “displayed exemplary erudition and remarkable fortitude since his elevation to the bench in 1996”. “As a judge, his greatest contribution to Indian jurisprudence has been on issues of Constitutional significance, particularly with regard to civil liberties,” he said.
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Earlier this year, on January 12, Justice Gogoi, along with three of his Supreme Court colleagues, Justices J Chelameswar (now retired), Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, had held an unprecedented press conference making public a letter they had written to outgoing CJI Misra in November, raising questions on various issues pertaining to the functioning of the court, particularly allocation of cases. “It’s a discharge of debt to the nation which we have done,” Justice Gogoi had then said.
Justices Lokur and Joseph were among the judges in the audience at the farewell function on Friday.
While outgoing CJI Misra did not comment on the criticism against him, he said that if he wrote an autobiography, the title would be “No Antonian”. “What I want to say (is) no rhetoric. I do not call Romans, friends, countrymen to lend their ears,” he said, in a reference to Mark Antony’s speech in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “No rhetoric, but hard work, and respect for work with humility, treating the younger generation as friends and the older generation as guides. I do not know if the title would be accepted or not… Posterity shall judge which title shall fit in if — it’s a big if — I decide to write,” he said.
He also advised lawyers not to impute motives to everything. “They can disassociate themselves from such tendencies only if they abandon their fixated notion,” he said.
In his speech, Justice Gogoi said these are times of “great political churning, across the world”. “Today, alongside a huge diversity of thought and opinion, there co-exists conflicting world views. We are divided, perhaps more than ever, by lines of caste, class, gender, religion and ideology… What we should wear, what we should eat, what we should say, read and think — these are no longer small and insignificant questions about our personal life,” he said.
“The challenge then is to construct and protect a common world view that genuinely unifies us as a community. Where do we find such a shared vision — doubtless in our Constitution and, therefore, arguing for the Constitution, for creating a community of Constitutional values belonging to this community, does not mean that we must give up who we are, our personal beliefs and tastes,” he said.
“Instead, it means we must constantly evaluate these beliefs on the touchstone of Constitutional morality. Wherever there is doubt and conflict, we must allow Constitutional morality to prevail. This is true patriotism to the Constitution,” he said.
Stating that the “system has done well despite odds”, Justice Gogoi said, “we have a whole lot of committed judges… and they will continue to be committed, regardless of the inadequacies in terms of remuneration, in spite of the possibilities of abuse of their names.”
Citing some of the important cases in which the outgoing CJI delivered judgments, Justice Gogoi said: “Jonathan Swift once said that vision is the art of seeing the invisible. How do you do it? This is precisely the dilemma in which judges often find themselves. It is one thing to resolve legal disputes where answers are dictated by the statutory text or precedent. It is much more challenging when there are no given answers. In his years in the Supreme Court, Justice Misra has dealt with several cases that fall in the second category.”
“In cases like Tehseen Poonawala and Shakti Vahini, Justice Misra has spoken against social evils like mob lynching and honour killings and denounced extra-legal attempts at dispensing justice,” he said, adding that “individual liberty is a recurring motive in” the outgoing CJI’s “judicial opinions”.
“He has consistently upheld the freedom of the individual to choose and express this choice. Recent cases like Shakti Vahini, Shafeen Jahan and more recent Navtej Johar (decriminalising homosexuality) involved the individual’s liberty to choose and to express this choice in the form of a partner of whom society does not approve. In Common Cause, the choice extended to ending one’s own life as an expression of dignity,” he said. “Justice Misra has also supported women’s right to equal citizenship, evident in Charu Khurana that outlawed gender-based criteria of membership in make-up associations.”
“His words have often sought to inspire nationalism among the people and reflect how deeply he venerates the Indian nation and its founders such as in the national anthem case and in Tuljapurkar vs State of Maharashtra dealing with the prohibition of an obscene poem on Gandhiji,” said Justice Gogoi. “Under his able stewardship, not only has the Supreme Court maneuvered difficult legal questions in a dexterous manner, but it has also urged society to think progressively through the Constitution,” he said.