New Delhi: Justice N.V. Ramana of the Supreme Court Saturday spoke of judges becoming victims of “juicy gossip” and “slanderous social-media posts”.
“As judges are self-restrained from speaking out in their own defence, they are now being construed as soft targets for criticism,” said the judge. He blamed the proliferation of social media for a sudden increase in attacks against judges.
In line to become the next Chief Justice of India, after the retirement of the incumbent CJI S.A. Bobde in April 2021, Justice Ramana was delivering a special talk at the virtual launch of retired judge Justice R. Banumathi’s book, Judiciary, Judges and the Administration of Justice. Justice Banumathi demitted office on 19 July.
At the event, CJI Bobde also addressed the concern highlighted in Justice Ramana’s speech. He stressed the importance of an independent judiciary, which, he explained, was not just limited to independence from executive powers, but from many other “pressures and prejudices.”
“The judicial independence is not for the personal benefit of the judges, but for the nature of power vested with the judiciary,” CJI Bobde said. In fact, even the free speech of judges is also curtailed by the same laws which prevent people from saying whatever they feel like, the CJI emphasised.
And, while both CJI Bobde and Justice Ramana underscored a judge’s tough life and the balance they have to strike between their personal and professional life, neither commented on the top court’s judgment that convicted advocate Prashant Bhushan for his tweets against the present CJI as well as the last four.
A bench led by Justice Arun Mishra (now retired) indicted Bhushan for the “malicious” tweets and imposed a fine of Re 1 on him.
‘Judge’s life is not a bed of roses’
Justice Ramana, who was more vocal and direct, said there is a misunderstanding that judges lead a life of luxury in their ivory towers. His statement came against the backdrop of the book’s theme — the responsibilities and duties of a judge.
“From my own experience, I can state that the life of a judge is not a bed of roses,” he said, adding that the reality was quite different from what people comprehend. “Best judges of the same are the family members, who are usually torn between restraints and relationships.”
He pointed to the self-imposed restrictions judges follow in their social life to remain independent. And, yet they have become soft targets of criticism that have got complicated by “the proliferation of social media and technology.”
“I believe judgeship in the present day requires sacrifices unparalleled in any other profession, and the same is required to be made as the country’s future is dependent on strong independent judges,” he remarked.
Covid pandemic will increase pendency of cases
For judges, the CJI said, the biggest challenge is to ensure the “country inches towards the goals set in the Constitution.” To achieve the same, he asserted, an independent judiciary is essential.
However, hand-in-hand with judicial independence goes judicial accountability. “If the public is to give profound respect to the judges, the judges should…maintain dignified conduct and aloofness,” he added. Quoting Winston Churchill, CJI further said: “Judicial service is not merely an employment nor the judges are employees of the government.”
Speaking on the occasion, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court detailed the initiatives the top court’s e-committee, which he heads, has taken to overcome the challenges thrown at the institution by the ensuing pandemic.
However, according to the CJI, the biggest challenge staring the judiciary is the pendency of cases that has seen an unprecedented rise due to Covid-19. He mooted utilisation of alternate dispute redressal mechanisms such as mediation to ensure early and inexpensive resolution of matters.
Another area of concern, the CJI said, is mental health. The pandemic, he added, has brought about indifference and aggression. In the Supreme Court, he informed the participants, an initiative is being taken to address this issue.