INDIA: Dark days for the Judiciary

In a first for India, the 4 senior-most judges of the Supreme Court called for a press meet. Justices Chelameshwar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph held a press meet at the residence of Justice Chelameswar, the second in line after the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra. There was a flurry of speculation on national news media after the announcement and shock at the turn of events that drove the senior members of the Judiciary to take this step.

The press-meet began with Justice Chelameswar stating that this is an extraordinary event in the history of a nation and it was with no pleasure that they were compelled to take this step. Chelameswar went on to state that the administration of the Supreme Court is not in order and that despite repeated attempts by the four judges to correct the state of affairs by approaching the CJI, the appropriate remedial measures were not taken. He went on to state that they owed a responsibility to the institution and to the nation and that 20 years down the line, they do not want ‘wise men’ to say that “the four of us sold our souls and didn’t take care of this institution, ..they didn’t take care of the interests of the nation…”

He wrapped up by remarking that an independent and impartial judiciary is the hallmark of a good democracy and that for the survival of democracy – the judiciary needs to be safeguarded; its equanimity must be preserved. The most damning thing said was that a specific request was made to the CJI on a specific issue this morning, but to no avail and left with no choice, they decided to place the state of affairs before the people of this country. When urged for specific details, they circulated a 7-page letter written to the CJI. On being pressed, the judges confirmed that the press meet prompted by the issues surrounding Justice Loya’s mysterious death.

The letter speaks specifically of authority of the CJI as master of the roster, and that in this regard, he is the ‘first among equals’ and his position is not ‘a recognition of any superior legal or factual authority’.

“There have been instances where case(s) having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution have been assigned by the Chief Justices of this Court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.” (reproduced verbatim)

The letter refers specifically to the issue arising from the recalling of the order dated 27 Oct, 2017 in the case of RP Luthra vs. UOI and the issue of the Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) for the appointment of judges, and states that the issue of the MOP must be dealt with in the Chief Justices’ conference and in the Full Court or if judicially, then by a Constitution Bench.

A dark day for India, the contents of the letter and the press conferences make it unequivocally clear that the four judges are expressing their revolt against the actions of the CJI, which have come under the scanner over the past few months. The integrity and independence of the apex court came under fire in November last year during hearings in the controversial Medical Council of India corruption case, which involves allegations of corruption in the higher judiciary.

An independent and impartial judiciary is the very foundation of rule of law and democracy and the issues raised in the letter to the CJI must be viewed with serious disapprobation. It is time to examine seriously how best to ensure transparency in the process of allocation of cases among the different benches in the Supreme Court of India. The AHRC calls for an independent and impartial audit of the administration of the Supreme Court of India and it is imperative that Chief Justice Misra responds to the issues raised.