It is incumbent upon judges to exercise utmost discretion in utterances inside courtrooms, President Ram Nath Kovind said here on Saturday. Addressing the valedictory function of the Constitution Day programme organised by the Supreme Court, Kovind said that in Indian tradition, judges are imagined as a model of rectitude and detachment more akin to ‘sthitpragya’ (a person of steady wisdom).
“We have 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,” he said. The President said he was 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,” he said. In support of his argument, the President quoted Justice Frankfurter of the US Supreme Court in the Dennis versus United States case who had said courts are not representative bodies and are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society.
Their essential quality is detachment founded on independence, and 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, Kovind said, quoting the US judge. “We are legatees of an illustrious history in which legal luminaries not only shaped the national movement but also created a prototype of a selfless public figure.
“Right from the beginning, the judiciary consistently conformed to those highest standards of conduct while discharging its responsibility. In people’s view, it is the most trusted institution,” the President said. Kovind also expressed anguish at the remarks made against judges in social media.
“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,” Kovind said. He also wondered what could be behind this phenomenon. “Can we, collectively, examine the reasons behind it for the sake of a healthy society,” he asked.
The President said the Constitution is the roadmap for our collective journey. “At the core of it are justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. In this forum, let us explore what it has to say about justice,” he said.
The President said that in very few and carefully chosen words, the Preamble expands the notion of justice to include its social, economic and political aspects. “That is what the Constitution wants us to secure for all citizens of India. How far have we succeeded when compared to this ideal,” he asked.
The President spoke about pendency of cases and appointment of judges, and made it clear that he was of the firm view that the independence of the judiciary is non-negotiable. He, however, asked, “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,” Kovind added. He said the idea is not new and has been around for more than half a century without being tested.
“I am sure that there could also be better suggestions for reforming the system. Ultimately, the aim should be to strengthen the justice delivery mechanism,” the President said. The issue of pendency has ramifications for economic growth and development too, he added.
“It is high time all stakeholders find a way out by keeping national interest above all. Technology can be a great ally in this process. The pandemic has hastened the adoption of information and communication technology in the domain of the judiciary,” he said. The President said justice is the critical fulcrum around which a democracy revolves, and it gets further strengthened if the three institutions of the state the judiciary, legislature and the executive are in a harmonious existence.
“In the Constitution, each institution has its defined space within which it functions. Except for a brief phase of aberration (emergency period), 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 person may speak freely,” he said. Palkhivala was obviously alluding to the courtrooms of India where freedom of expression is guaranteed, Kovind added.