Ramana says courts intervene not to usurp the role of the government, but to nudge it to take care of ‘unresolved’ grievances
President Ram Nath Kovind said judges must exercise ‘utmost discretion’ while making utterances in courtrooms and quoted an American judge to argue that “courts are not representative bodies and are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society.”
The President made these remarks while delivering the valedictory address at the Constitution Day celebrations, organised by the Supreme Court of India, in the presence of Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana.
Chief Justice Ramana, while addressing the inaugural session of the same event on Friday, stated that courts intervene not to usurp the role of the government, but to nudge it to take care of “unresolved” grievances.
Speaking at the concluding session of the two-day event, President also wondered if “there can be better way to appoint judges to the higher judiciary without diluting the independence of the judiciary even to the slightest degree”.
‘Judges as hallmarks’
The President noted that in Indian tradition, judges are imagined as a model of rectitude and detachment more akin to “sthitpragya” [a person of steady wisdom] and the country has had “a rich history of legions of such judges known for their utterances full of sagacity and conduct beyond reproach, which have become hallmarks for the future generations”.
“I am happy to note that the Indian judiciary has been adhering to those highest standards. There is no doubt that you have set for yourself a high bar. Hence, it is also incumbent upon the judges to exercise utmost discretion in the utterances in courtrooms. Indiscreet remarks, even if made with good intention, give space for dubious interpretations to run down the judiciary,”President Kovind said.
The President quoted Justice Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dennis versus United States case of 1951, in which the judge had observed,”Courts are not representative bodies. They are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society. Their essential quality is detachment, founded on independence”.
“History teaches that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day, and assume primary responsibility in choosing between competing political, economic and social pressure,”the President said, quoting the American judge.
Appointment of judges
Reflecting upon the appointment process in the higher judiciary, he said,“Without diluting it to the slightest degree, can a better way be found to select judges for the higher judiciary?”
“For instance, there can be an all-India Judicial Service which can select, nurture and promote the right talent, right from the lower levels to the higher levels… I am sure that there could also be other, better suggestions for reforming the system. Ultimately, the aim should be to strengthen the justice delivery mechanism,”he noted.
The President also touched upon the recent phenomenon of the judiciary being attacked on social media platforms.
“It pains me to no end, therefore, to note that of late, there have been cases of some disparaging remarks against the judiciary made on social media platforms. These platforms have worked wonderfully to democratise information, yet they have a dark side too. The anonymity granted by them is exploited by some miscreants. I hope this is an aberration, and it will be short-lived,”he said.
Mr. Kovind also dwelt upon the pendency of cases, the need for stakeholders to find a solution to reduce them and increasing access to justice “as a very small section of the citizens can afford to knock on the doors of the court of justice”.
He stated that justice is the “critical fulcrum” around which democracy revolves and it gets further strengthened if the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive maintain a harmonious existence.
“Except for a brief phase of aberration, the journey of our Republic has been glorious. Even during that phase, I vividly recall the comment of noted jurist Nani Palkhivala who famously spoke of “a few thousand square feet where a man may speak freely”. He [Mr. Palkhivala] was obviously alluding to the courtrooms of India where freedom of expression is guaranteed,”Mr. Kovind said.
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