We have listened to many vague and general comments in the recent past criticizing judiciary and also going to the extent of leveling serious corruption allegations. Even News Channels debated the integrity of some judges as I perceive and judiciary is under severe attack now. Many say that few are exaggerating the issues pertaining to judiciary, but, it is not at all true. Without going into the facts and proof, I am very happy to listen to the news that Senior Advocate of Supreme Court Shri Shanti Bhushan has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court naming few Chief Justices of Supreme Court as corrupt. Though, there were isolated cases in the past, this is the first time that a reputed Senior Advocate like Shri Shanti Bhushan has come-out so clearly advocating at the alleged corruption at the Higher Judiciary. No one can deny that there is corruption in Higher Judiciary as the judges of Constitutional Courts too are the human beings. Corruption is there every where, but, the corruption in Higher Judiciary is a serious issue and leads to collapse of the system even. Because, there is no effective mechanism as of now to re-call a corrupt judge or to remove a corrupt judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court and one needs go through tedious process of impeachment. If we keep the commitment of the legislature for reducing the corruption apart, there is a time constraint too in moving the impeachment motion. It consumes lot of time even for impeaching one High Court Judge and then, what about the serious corruption allegations. Can this country bare a corrupt Higher Judiciary? Nobody is denying the political corruption and that is a bigger issue altogether. Constitution of India and the laudable pronouncements of the Supreme Court confer the power on the Court to entertain Public Interest Litigation and people have appreciated all this. I have listened to many people quoting the pronouncements of the Supreme Court with so much pride and that was the respect of the judiciary in the past in the minds of the people. It is true that even now people repose so much confidence on the High Court or the Supreme Court and we know the reputation of many judges as independent, knowledgeable and courageous. Professionals connected with the judiciary know the reputation of a judge and if there is some corruption, then, definitely, they will know the allegations of corruption or even the corruption. With the change of adoption of methods in the corruption practice, now, it has become very difficult to find proof or establish the corruption charges on a High Judge or a Supreme Court Judge.
I think, unless, an allegation is so personal and without any basis, the Judiciary should not bother at the criticism and criticism tend to be there and it becomes part of ‘freedom of expression’ conferred on the people of India. Giving the alarming level of allegations of corruption in Higher Judiciary, I think that very few are coming-out openly showing finger at the corruption for the benefit of the system or society at large and they are the citizens discharging their fundamental duty or responsibility too apart from enjoying the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. The Constitutional Court can give directions to the government when their action or the non-action violates the fundamental rights of the citizen and we have seen cases where the Courts have given detailed directives in public interest. Despite the criticism that it is not the domain of the court to take policy decisions or to interfere in policy decisions, people of this country supported many pronouncements of the Supreme Court and the judiciary has enjoyed so much respect in the past. Now, the people are having a different perception and thats a dangerous thing. I am sure on one-thing that if the judiciary fails to deliver the results as expected, then, the entire society collapses. As I was told when I was a student of law that no real powers were conferred on the court to punish the person who has committed the contempt, the contempt proceeding is very effectively used on the people who advocate for change and who raise their voice for the benefit of the system or the people at large. It is true that the ‘freedom of expression’ has limitations and there should be any baseless personal criticism. But, given the public perception of corruption in Judiciary now and given open criticism by all sections of the society, the Judiciary has to introspect itself at its functioning and the corruption allegations as it claims complete independence in its functioning. People know that a judge is also a human being and he may be corrupt at times.
Given the importance of the judiciary and the public perception of judiciary as an ultimate hope to get justice, it is the time to take the corrective steps to reduce the rate of corruption in the judiciary and to concentrate on the functioning of courts in this country. I have read a news-paper report where it is reported that Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan of Loksatta has commented that in Judiciary, from Chief Justice to ordinary clerk, there is corruption. If we invite the comments on the functioning of the judiciary from the eminent in this country, they will definitely refer to the issue of corruption in the judiciary apart from showing the issue of pendency of cases. In my opinion, given the public perception of corruption in Judiciary and the serious corrupt allegations against few judges, the Judiciary should be very cautious while dealing with the contempt petitions against the people criticizing judiciary. Indian Judiciary should not face a situation where the legislature steps in and makes a law taking total control of judiciary and the people may support that move to. What can we do if such situation arises? Already, alleging that many cases are pending or showing the delay in rendering justice, the powers of the traditional courts are being taken way by constituting tribunals with executive control. I think, even the government or the legislature has the responsibility not to interfere in the judicial appointments and let the appointments be made solely on the basis of ability, integrity and other just considerations. To exercise the power effectively, the Judiciary should take so many steps and needs to regain all the lost respect among the people of this country. If the judiciary looses respect among the public, then, the executive may not even care the directive of the judiciary and thats a serious issue. Every democratic set-up requires an independent and effective judiciary. The Judiciary or the Courts should bare all the criticism now unless its too personal and without any basis and judiciary may not achieve anything by imposing few days imprisonment in a contempt petition alleging that some has criticized the judiciary.
In my personal opinion, the critics of Higher Judiciary requires lot more protection than the people exercising their ‘right to expression’ in other cases. The reason is very simple. There is no effective mechanism to deal with the corruption allegations on the judges of High Court and Supreme Court and as such, the critics of judges of High Court or the Supreme Courts require greater protection. Nothing happens if some false allegation is made against a judge now as he can very well defend as ultimately truth triumphs and people knows the fact. If the allegation is false, then, even the professionals knowing a particular judge, will come-open and defend him. Now, I do strongly feel that steps are being taken to restore the lost dignity of the legal profession or the Judiciary and I believe that it continues.
This country salutes Shri Shanthi Bhushan for his courage and commitment for the change in the system though the facts are to be looked into.
Though the honest and committed judges of the High Court, or the Supreme Court, who are in majority, may feel offended at the criticism being made at the judiciary, I hope that they understand the situation and exercise the needed restraint. All respect to the honest, committed and able judges and professionals connected to a particular court knows as to who is honest, committed and able. I don’t personally think that positions are important if that position does not provide the expected respect. Justice A.P.Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, enjoys so much respect among the professionals and intelligent despite not being promoted to Supreme Court and it makes my statement very clear.
Note: The views expressed are my personal and have no intention to insult anyone or any institution and views expressed with a view to see lot of respect to the judiciary among the general public.
V.DURGA RAO, Advocate, Madras High Court.