Category Archives: Current Events

When Judges took to the Press: Looming Public Policy Questions

By Shreeja Sen

Supreme Court of India.

In the history of the Indian judiciary, there have been several landmark moments. Some have been marked by sheer judicial brilliance, while others have blotted its history, often coming back to haunt the institution. The events of 12 January 2018 are likely to go down as  one such landmark moment, although time will tell what the impact of this would be.

On Friday, 12 January, four senior judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M. B. Lokur, and Kurian Joseph – called a press conference to express their discontent with some of the internal functioning of the highest judiciary. Listing and allocating cases to benches of preference was one of the issues mentioned, bringing into question the role of the chief justice who is responsible for the same. The judges sent a letter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra highlighting this issue as well as other concerns regarding the manner of deciding certain matters of grave importance.

Judges holding a press conference, especially to discuss the functioning of the judiciary, is not a common phenomenon. This is a break from convention, an unsaid rule that judges only speak through their judgments. This is not the first time Justice Chelameswar has spoken out against the internal workings of the Supreme Court. In the time since the National Judicial Appointments Commission was set aside, and the collegium system sought to be made more transparent, Justice Chelameswar has raised his voice whenever he believed there was a problem. Internal functioning of the judiciary has seldom been public, although in recent times, collegium resolutions have been made public (although Justices Lokur and Joseph were against this).

Public Policy Concerns

The judiciary of the present is not only an institution that implements policies. It has taken on a role of also laying down norms and laws. A few recent examples can be the Court’s judgment on right to privacy, police reforms, and recognition of rights of transgenders. Senior judges speaking directly to the press and in essence, to the country, should be a signal about where the judiciary is headed. When matters of public importance are brought to the Supreme Court for decision making, what role does the chief justice have? It is often said that India does not have one Supreme Court, it has thirty-one Supreme Courts owing to the number of judges and the benches they sit on to decide cases. In saying that the chief justice is first among equals, the four judges have brought the issue of the role of the chief justice back to the forefront.

This should, ideally, bring more focus on the functioning of the Chief Justice of India, in his/her administrative capacity. While the Supreme Court Rules mention the role of the Chief Justice as the one who makes the decisions regarding allocation of cases to particular benches, the rest is left to his/her discretion. There needs to be a standard set of rules of procedure for the role of chief justices of the high courts and the Supreme Court. As of now, owing to the nature of the tenure of the chief justice (seniormost judge becomes the chief justice), there is no such standardised manner of functioning, other than those developed by unsaid norms of practice.

Concerns regarding transparency and accountability of the judiciary are also ones that still need to be addressed. While some judges of the Supreme Court themselves agreed that court proceedings ought to have audio and video recording, there has been no such decision to enable implementation of the same.

Last, and certainly not the least, this break from tradition along with other recent events like the case of a seven-judge bench hearing a contempt case against Justice C.K. Karnan, the question of the Memorandum of Procedure of judicial appointments, and the general lack of both transparency and inclusivity in the judiciary, must force the institution to introspect. Finally, as one of the pillars of democracy, the judiciary, with the Supreme Court in the lead, ought to find its moral compass arising out of the Constitution and as an institution of justice.

(Shreeja Sen is is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at shreejasen@nls.ac.in)


Image source – http://ecourts.gov.in/koraput/supreme-court-india

BOOK LAUNCH: Kandhamal Introspection of Initiative for Justice by Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma

SMITA MUTT

Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice is an investigation into the justice process that followed an outbreak of communal violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2007-08. The initiative assesses the performance of these processes, including witness protection, rehabilitation and Fast Track courts nearly a decade later. The Bangalore launch was held at St. Josephs College for the Arts and Sciences and co-organised by Alternative Law Forum  and PUCL Karnataka. In Delhi, where this book was released at the Constitution Club, Justice AP Shah reportedly claimed that it provides a convincing overview of the “optimism of law and the depressing reality of practice”.

The purpose of writing this book now was to create visibility for the events in Kandhamal since, despite their huge scale, connectivity to the area is poor and public attention to the issue has been limited. Author Saumya Uma was introduced by Father Ajay, a priest from Kandhamal who shared stories of individuals during and immediately after the violence. Orissa was the first state in India to pass both Anti-conversion and Anti-cow slaughter Acts and he alleges that it was the complicity of the state – from the District Collector and police to those in charge of the justice process – that enabled these events to occur. Though the rioting had largely died down after August 2008, he narrated that it took nearly three years for people to return to their villages. The riots were not a sudden explosion of sentiment, he alleged, but planned and supported by the state.

The book itself is divided into sections that examine the status of relief, rehabilitation, compensation and reparations and concludes that all of them have been woefully underprovided by the State. Uma has been studying this particular issue since 2009 and has been actively involved in seeking justice for the victims. Due to her involvement in the process, this book serves not only to draw attention to the events in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, but also to document the challenges faced by victims and their families in society, how the official records are meagre and incomplete, how witnesses are being threatened in open court by the accused and the procedural mischief of lower courts. The book is divided into six chapters that provide an introduction and overview to:

(a) the Justice Naidu Commission Report (2015), which has been submitted but not yet introduced into the public domain,

(b) White papers on conversion released in 2007, ‘08 and ‘09 that were ignored by the state,

(c) Reparative Justice and the living situation in relief camps,

(d) The role of the criminal justice system and lack of prosecutions,

(e) The lack of adequate witness protections (with one witness having been abducted from right outside her lawyer’s office) and

(f) The use of false cases to intimidate and punish those who sought justice.

Other guests who discussed and launched the book included Prof. VS Elizabeth of NLSIU, Bangalore and Mr. Shivsundar an eminent journalist and activist with Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike. The two of them discussed the wider climate of communal tensions today, addressing the process of ‘otherisation’ in contemporary politics, the recent RSS Meet in Goa and the roles played by ordinary people, neighbours and friends during any kind of communal riots. Prof. Elizabeth recalled her student days in Mangalore (the coastal region as well as Uttar and Dakshin Kannada were where the BJP first began consolidating their strength in Karnataka) and how Hindutva forces attempt to divide minority groups, arguing at various times that they are only opposed to Muslims, not Christians or evangelical groups, not the settled groups such as Baptists. Mr. Shivsundar turned his attention to how anything can eventually become accepted as normal whether “economy after Ambedkar, politics after Modi or journalism after Arnab”.

(Smita Mutt is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at smitamutt@nls.ac.in)

Book Launch: WHEN CRIME PAYS by Milan Vaishnav

TRISROTA DUTTA

“When Crime Pays” lays down the relationship between power and crime in the Indian polity. India being the largest democracy in the world often makes crime committed in the struggle for power appear legitimate. It raises a complex question on the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics. It highlights the importance of empirical research in interpreting political actions. There are a considerable number of politicians running for state/district election who have criminal cases running against them in the court. These men not only contest the election but also win the seats. The book thus raises the question of what is the exact relationship between voters and party leaders that sustain protection of those with criminal cases ticking? The book by Milan Vaishnav is a thorough research on the intricacies of such a relation which dominates political affair not only in India but also in the rest of the world.

when crime paysThe author widely dwells over empirics and data collected mainly in India. The hypothesis which he seems to have drawn is based on statistics collected on the field. It reflects the trend of politics over the years. The thought that political affair is more inclined towards success and away from moral high ground finds basis through his words. A brief run through of statistics while he introduces the audience to his book is not only fascinating but also reflected the abuse of power taking place in political endeavours.

The guest speaker Mr Yogendra Yadav pointed towards a shift in the nature of criminality, where crime is hidden beneath the white collar sophistication. According to him, the high rate of crime is due to the fallout of democracy. Therefore one needs to go out to the field and make the voters aware of this. They must be aware to not vote for a candidate if they do not deserve it, as formal qualification is not an empirical sanction behind good and bad.

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-18 at 1.18.38 PM (2)The event was moderated by Ms Anubha Bhosle who is the Executive Editor for CNN-IBN. She laid focus on identity politics playing a dominant role in the election and the never-ending dilemma faced by common people with regard to whom to vote for. The dilemma, as pointed out by both the author and the guest speaker is permanent as voters are nuanced when they analyse performances. They would generally choose from those who can be occasionally depended on since politics shall always remain the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

(Trisrota is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at trisrotadutta@nls.ac.in)