Between the bench and the bar, I would have preferred the bench to behave with restraint and maintain the dignity of the SC and the judiciary at large.

I am extremely sorry to know what happened at the Supreme Court in the last two days, specifically what transpired in Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s court.

I was hoping that in the present situation, when the other two pillars of the Constitution – the legislature and the executive – have failed to win the confidence of the people because of their lack of moral values, that the judiciary will uphold these values, and people’s confidence will continue to be with the judiciary.

For me, what transpired in court Friday is totally disappointing. I am ashamed of what happened. I am not going to take sides in this matter, but I am sad that the bench and the bar have failed to treat the faith of the people in the institution with the respect it deserves.

The episode could have certainly been dealt with in a better way. Instead of taking up this case on the judicial side, the Chief Justice could have called lawyers of the petitioners, Prashant Bhushan and Dushyant Dave, to his chamber, and asked for their views on the matter. If the advocates had insisted that the CJI should recuse, the CJI should have conveyed his wish to continue, and then heard the case. He should have also not let them have this exchange of words on whether he should hear the case in open court.

It looks as though a difference of opinion has been brewing between the judges and the lawyers for some time now. However, between the bench and the bar, I would have preferred the bench to behave with restraint and maintain the dignity of the institution.

There have been instances of friction between the bench and the bar in the past – very often in high courts at different times – but with the intervention of friends of the court, maybe retired judges or even senior law officers, the issues have been settled out of open courts, as they must be. When the executive and the judiciary fought each other in the past, people firmly stood behind the judges. Even in those cases, third parties or unconnected people were not allowed to comment on issues in court.

The supersession of judges in 1973 and 1975 did come into public domain tremendously, but the trust was with the good elements in the judiciary.

I cannot recollect anything else where confrontation was escalated to this level. The reputation of the courts has taken a hit by this open confrontation, and the judiciary cannot survive this WhatsApp and social media criticism. When people at large start questioning judicial decisions, that’s the end of the judiciary.

Having served the institution as a lawyer and then as a judge of the apex court, I have very high hopes for the judiciary. If friends and well-wishers of the judicial institution can’t convince it to get its act together, then god alone can save India.  For me, it looks hopeless, but I still hope I am wrong.

Santosh Hegde is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India.

Read more:‘Fracas in Supreme Court: There’s deep distrust at the top’ by Raju Ramachandran and ‘CJI’s action on bribery charge is SC’s biggest-ever crisis, and it comes from within’ by Alok Prasanna Kumar

 

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