Elections every few years to change the ruler need not be a guarantee against tyranny of those elected, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said at a function in New Delhi on Wednesday. The CJI underscored that “criticisms and voicing of protests is integral to the democratic process” and any law backed by a sovereign must be tempered by tenets of justice.
“It has always been well recognised that the mere right to change the ruler, once every few years, by itself need not be a guarantee against tyranny,” said the Chief Justice, delivering the Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture on “Rule of law” online.
The CJI said the idea that people are the ultimate sovereign is found in notions of human dignity and autonomy and a reasoned public discourse is vital to a working democracy.
“A public discourse, that is both reasoned and reasonable, is to be seen as an inherent aspect of human dignity and hence essential to a properly functioning democracy.
“As Professor Julius Stone observed in his book ‘The Province of Law’, elections, day-to-day political discourses, criticisms and voicing of protests is integral to the democratic process,” he said.
Drawing from the legal history of pre-Independence India, the CJI said the British rule was famous for “Rule by Law”, rather than “Rule of Law”, underlining that a law must imbibe ideas of justice and equity.
“Renowned scholars have therefore argued that a law cannot really be classified as a ‘law’ unless it imbibes within itself the ideals of justice and equity. An ‘unjust law’ might not have the same moral legitimacy as a ‘just law’, but it might still command the obedience of some sections of the society to the detriment of others,” said Chief Justice Ramana.
The judge stressed that judiciary is the primary organ which is tasked with ensuring that the laws which are enacted are in line with the Constitution.
“This is one of the main functions of the judiciary, that of judicial review of laws. The Supreme Court has held this function to be a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which means that the parliament cannot curtail the same,” he added.