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Order, Order, My Lord!

Order, Order, My Lord!

It may be too presumptuous to name it supreme ghotala in the Supreme Court. But the perception that emerges in the minds of the sensible common man and woman in India is that there is something unholy within the holy precincts of the apex court.

The fact that four senior judges went hammer and tongs at the way the Chief Justice of India functions by going public indicates that they had certain allegations or grievances that needed to be looked into. It is not known that they have ever been publicity shopping judges. Hence, one can safely conclude that it is not for collecting brownie points that they were raising their concern. A quip that has gone viral on the social media is that, hitherto, people were approaching the court for airing their grievances in view of justice, whereas, now the judges in the court are compelled to approach the people’s court airing their grievances and seeking justice. Doesn’t it reveal ‘a point of order, My Lord?’ Or, is it the Chair addressing the honourable Chair and desperately shouting: ‘Order, order, My Lord?’ That, too, in the people’s court, ‘the final court of appeal in a democracy!’

The matter is serious. The judges-turned prosecutors have a point, a point of order. They have no quarrel with the roster system in which the chief Justice is the master of the roster. However, they have their differences with ‘the way vital cases are allocated by the CJ.’ They give him credit for being ‘primus inter pares,’ first among equals. He can have his privileged role in administrative matters. But, their contention seems to point to the fact that they expect him to take his colleagues, especially the senior-most judges, into confidence for the smooth functioning of the Supreme Court in all honesty and justice.

Lady Justice stands blindfolded to warn the court not to tilt the balance on one side in favour of someone. The blindfold is meant to represent impartiality. Her upright posture with balanced scales in hand points to the need of ‘moral force in judicial systems.’ This symbolic representation of the balance-holding lady is in every court. She does not have to stare at the Chair. Her silent presence speaks volumes. Does anyone listen to her silent plea which is loud and clear?

Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate in the Apex Court and convener of the Campaign for judicial Accountability and Reforms, came out with an instance of tilting the balance by the Apex Court. He alleged that there was ‘a serious prima facie evidence which certainly warrants an investigation....’ Bhushan filed a complaint against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra under the “in-house procedure” for probing him. His contention was that in the Lucknow medical college graft case, ‘the CJI refused permission to the CBI to lodge an FIR against a judge in connection with graft even when the CBI had presented documentary evidence in the case?’  Bhushan further accused the CJI of ‘using both his judicial and administrative powers to kill the scam case and help the private medical college.’ He pointed out how ‘the CJI tried to stop the Bench of Justice Chelameswar from passing an order on November 8 for a Constitution Bench of the senior-most judges to probe the scam on a petition filed by senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal.’

The Medical Council of India bribery scam case was re-allocated by the Chief Justice on November 10, 2017 even when it was allocated to another bench (consisting of five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court) by Justice Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge. That is where many view this as overruling of the most cherished principle: ‘no one can be a judge in his own case.’ The view that ‘the Chief Justice of India (CJI) alone had the power to assign a case to a bench even as there were allegations against him in the matter’ is questioned by many.

In whichever way the court impasse gets resolved or buried, the fact remains that there are citizens in India who question the validity of using the legal system to get an extra mileage for one’s own benefit. The simple truth that no one is above the law has to be cherished and executed. This has to be exemplified in principle and in practice first and foremost before Lady Justice in the temple of Justice. Otherwise, individuals and personalities holding levers of judicial powers may tilt the balance of justice and fair play. The Institution is above any individual. Let no one arrogate to himself or herself power and authority to intern Lady Justice.

“I believe, and I am sure, each one of those present in the gathering believe that for the survival of a liberal democracy, an impartial and independent judiciary is essential, without which, I don’t think, liberal democracy can flourish.” (Justice Chelameswar, at the launch of the book ,Supreme Court of India - The beginnings, Indian Express, Jan. 23).

(Published on 29th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 05)