Former Supreme Court judge Kurian Joseph on Friday said the “crisis” which had forced him and three other most senior judges — Justices B Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi (now Chief Justice of India) and Madan B Lokur — to hold an unprecedented press conference on January 12 cannot be said to be fully over, although things have definitely started changing.
“You can’t say it fully that the crisis is over because it was an institutional crisis. So it takes time for the system and practices to change,” Justice Joseph told the media a day after his retirement. But, he added, “Hopefully it will change, because the person who was part of the great clamour for change is also the captain over there. So things should change…. It’s changing…this process of change will continue.”
The retired judge said “even the earlier Chief Justice made changes” after the January 12 press meet. He said he never regretted going public with the problems. Justice Joseph also said there is never any political pressure on judges to decide cases in a particular way, but he added, “…as regards appointments etc, the way appointments have been delayed…have been selectively delayed…have been withheld — all these are in a way interference.”
Addressing the media at his residence, Justice Joseph said roster was “only one of the issues” which prompted the four judges to take such the unprecedented step of addressing a press conference. “There were some systems and practices that we have been asking: instead of an individual taking decision without consulting anybody, let’s have some system and practices to be followed which would be healthy for an institution, because it is not nice for an institution, particularly like the court, to have an individual solely and exclusively taking decision. That was one thing we had been requesting,” he said.
Justice Joseph said the consultative process is now taking place. Asked whether the demand for a collective leadership was due to a crisis of leadership in apex court, Justice Joseph said, “Majority of judges who come to Supreme Court have been Chief Justices in high courts. In high court, you have something called (an) administrative committee. You don’t find such systems and practices in Supreme Court. That’s why I said, as far as administration of the Supreme Court is concerned, constitutionally it is definitely the Chief Justice of India (CJI), but it will be for the benefit of the CJI to have a permanent mechanism which will assist and guide him.”
On the press conference, which was criticised by many, Justice Joseph said, “I never regretted. Whatever I did, I did it very consciously…for a cause for which there was no other way left. That was the stage at which we did it.”
Asked why he and the others did not exercise the option of raising their demands in a full court, he said, “Only CJI could have convened a full court…there were many such requests (for convening a full court) made (to CJI).”
Justice Joseph also spoke on the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), which is the set of rules to be followed in appointment of judges: “As far as the Memorandum of Procedure is concerned, the Supreme Court is of the view that it is final because it has approved it. (The) government keeps saying it is not final because they are awaiting something from Supreme Court”.
He said the “collegium is acting on the latest draft of the MoP…. The draft MoP is being operated now, but whether it’s final or not is the only issue.” Justice Joseph denied there was any political pressure on the administrative decisions in the Supreme Court which culminated in the January 12 press conference. “I don’t think so. I only said that after we spoke out to the nation, things have been done with more caution and there were attempts to bring systems and practices. One suggestion…was to have a committee to assist the Chief Justice of India in exercise of his duties. But unfortunately, that did not go through.”
On the recent transfer of Justice Akil Kureshi Gujarat High Court to Bombay High Court, he said this was done in the “better interest of the administration of justice”. Justice Joseph said he does not agree with the general observation that there is corruption in judiciary. Denying that there is any corruption in the Supreme Court, he said, “Never ever has it occurred to me. I never heard about it. I don’t think anybody in Supreme Court is corrupt and would be corrupt.”