The Internet has done wonders for the world. But, its biggest contribution is that it has given belief to the common individuals that intellectuals differ from them only in using sophisticated words of particular lexicon. This is possibly the reason why Judiciary, considered a sacrosanct and sometimes beyond questioning institution, is now under intense scrutiny. Media and Social Media trials have become common, and at the same time, the institution itself has been by and large reluctant to speak against it. Now, CJI Ramana has taken the onus upon himself.
CJI on media trials
Recently, CJI put forward his opinion on the tussle between media and Judiciary. He accused the media of running ill-informed and agenda driven debates on judicial cases. He termed these showdowns as “running a Kangaroo Court”. A Kangaroo Court is a Court in which the evidence, most important feature of law, is not much relevant. According to the numero uno Judge of the Apex Court, this phenomenon is detrimental to the health of Democracy.
CJI was particularly critical of electronic media. He explicitly stated that stakeholders are overstepping and breaching their responsibilities at the same time. Stating that electronic media has Zero accountability, CJI Ramana said, “By overstepping and breaching your responsibility, you are taking our democracy two steps backward. Print media still has a certain degree of accountability, whereas electronic media has zero accountability.”
Context of observation by CJI
CJI Ramana’s comments can be seen as a pushback against the Supreme Court Judges being under intense scrutiny for their comments. People and even media personalities have been finding out irregularities in opinions of the Supreme Court on cases involving similar facts and issues. Surely, the Apex Court must not, and it should not have any problem with the logical analysis of judgements.
However, often, public opinions are driven by emotions rather than logic. That is why, during recent controversy involving judges’ comments on Nupur Sharma, people started to take personal dig at the Judges. This is highly condemnable on people’s part. No matter how much you disagree with particular Judge, unravelling family history will not solve the problem. Even Justice Pardiwala too criticised the phenomenon.
Judicial accountability and public scrutiny
On the flip side, the most important facet of judicial accountability is providing reasoning for whatever conclusion they draw from the particular fact. It was not adhered to in the case of holding Nupur Sharma’s “loose tongue” responsible for country being on fire. Additionally, the observation was also oral, which is not the part of records.
This is what logical individuals in both electronic as well as print media are demanding. They are constantly asking questions about the application of logic in different aspects. Skirting these questions off by terming them as “Kangaroo Court proceedings” is unadvisable. A Judicial mind should be wise enough to separate the noise from the news. If they are not able to do this, then certainly there is a need for tinkering with the training manual of judicial academies all over the country.
Another problem hurting the perceived credibility of Indian Judiciary is its relative opaqueness as compared to all other organs of the Democracy. While politicians, and even the bureaucrats, are compulsorily required to furnish their assets’ and obligations in public, there is no such requirement on judges. Recently, Bibek Debroy, the chairman of Economic advisory Council pointed out this problem in his column co-authored by Aditya Sinha. In fact, the Apex Court has quashed any such attempt.
Disclosure of assets is a must
Though, in 1997, the Supreme Court had adopted a resolution regarding mandatory disclosure of assets by SC Judges, on its website, assets of only 55 Judges are present for everyone to see. 2 of them are in fact serving Judges, one being the honourable Chief Justice himself. It should not be a matter of speculation that this is not a good example for the High Court and Lower Court Judges to follow. This is in stark contrast to the practice adopted by most countries. As Bibek Debroy pointed out, in nearly 100 countries SC Judges are mandatorily required to disclose their assets.
It is not a sign of mature democracy that Judges are living in separate regulatory silos. Judiciary is one of the 4 pillars of Democracy. Judges have been provided some independence because, often public sentiments go haywire and populist leaders use it to peddle their ideological agendas. But, it does not mean that they are totally independent from common public. Judiciary is independent from Executive and Legislative, but not from public opinion and scrutiny.
People want information
Taxpayers spend Rs 5 crores per year on every Judge. Not only that, an initial capital expenditure of 10 crores is also borne by the public. Add to that their personal independent opinions. The Public sees the Judges being treated well above others and being provided with special privileges. But, any privilege which does not serve public interest in not acceptable to the public.
People want to know whether the Judges are taking advantage of their prestige in society or not. In modern times, these advantages come mainly in the form of monetary benefits. That is why there is insistence on disclosure of assets by public servants, Judges being one of them. Ironically, Judiciary will be the last one to join the transparency bandwagon, if and when it decides to do.
Read more: It is high time for NJAC 2.0
Road ahead is difficult
Earlier, the public perceived delayed judgement was the only major big problem with the Judiciary. But, the free availability of Judgements and Court clips has brought out more negative facets of the institution. People are now demanding universal applicability of logic and their level of toleration is diminishing day-by-day.
At the same time, postmodernists, whose documented principle is that they do not believe in logic and objective reality, are constantly dominating the field. Tough job for Judiciary to follow.
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