ASSERTING THAT security checks before boarding flights should not become an “issue of prestige” or “status”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that high court judges shall continue to be frisked at airports in accordance with the central government’s procedure.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur set aside an order passed 11 years ago by the Rajasthan High Court, which had directed the central government and airport authorities to exempt high court judges from pre-embarkation security checks. There are 1,000-odd judges in 24 high courts across the country.
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Under a list prepared by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, those exempted from frisking at airports include Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court, apart from other constitutional functionaries like the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Governors, Chief Ministers, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Union Ministers of Cabinet rank, Lieutenant Governors and Cabinet Secretary.
The chief justices of high courts are also exempted from frisking in accordance with a 2005 circular.
The Rajasthan High Court had said that frisking high court judges indicates that the government has failed to maintain the status of judges, apart from failing to acknowledge their constitutional position.
But the Supreme Court noted that the central government was the best judge to examine issues concerning security, and “the judgment of the Rajasthan High Court is an example of a matter where the court should not have entered.”
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, said judges are expected to apply standards which are objective and well defined by law, and founded upon constitutional principle.
“Matters of security are not issues of prestige. They are not matters of status,” said the apex court, pointing out that the list of people who should be exempted from frisking does not depend on the warrant of precedence.
The bench said those exempted from security checks must be under “24X7” “government security coverage”, which would preclude the possibility of any prohibited or dangerous items being introduced on board an aircraft through his or her baggage.
“The security perception of the union government is that no exemption can be granted to a dignitary if he/ she is not under effective government security coverage on a 24×7 basis. Heads of foreign missions in India are exempted from pre-embarkation security checks on a reciprocal basis,” said the court, underlining that there was no justification for the high court to interfere with the government’s policy decision.
The apex court noted that the matter before the high court pertained to a report on a security lapse at an airport in the state, but that issue was ignored to focus on the frisking of high court judges. It also found fault with the high court’s suggestions on formulating a National Security Policy.
“The high court has evidently transgressed the ‘wise and self-imposed’ restraints on the power of judicial review by entertaining the writ petition and issuing these directions… Judicial power is respected and adhered to in a system based on the rule of law precisely for its nuanced and restrained exercise. If these restraints are not maintained, the court as an institution would invite justifiable criticism of encroaching upon a terrain on which it singularly lacks expertise and which is entrusted for governance to the legislative and executive arms of government,” said the Supreme Court.
It said the high court’s suggestions on framing a National Security Policy went beyond the legitimate domain of judicial review.
“Formulation of such a policy is based on information and inputs which are not available to the court. The court is not an expert in such matters… gathering of intelligence information, formulation of policies of security, deciding on steps to be taken to meet threats originating both internally and externally are matters on which courts singularly lack expertise,” it said.