Judiciary must remain detached from political ideology to ensure independence

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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Judiciary is the only pillar of our democracy which has by and large remained independent and that is what is irking the government.

The central government and the judiciary, two of the three pillars of our democracy, appear to be on a collision course. Union law minister Kiran Rijiju has been unusually critical of the judiciary and has been attacking the criteria of selection of judges, long vacation enjoyed by the judges and is even critical of the highest court taking ‘trivial’ matters like bail hearings.

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, known for his integrity and impeccable reputation as a judge, is unlikely to be cowed down and has reacted by declaring that the Supreme Court shall not have vacation judges during the ensuing break.

judiciaryBy government’s own admission in Parliament last week, the arrears of cases are mounting and have touched a figure of almost five crore. During the pre-covid period about three crore cases were pending in various courts across the country.

Instead of paying attention to bringing down the number of pending cases, the law minister has chosen to attack the judiciary by alleging lack of transparency or opaque system of selection of judges at the level of Supreme Court.

Government is not only sitting tight over giving approval for dozens of recommendations for appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges, it is going slow both at the central and state level by not filling vacancies of thousands of judicial magistrates and district judges. A visit to any court in the country is enough to understand the mess created by shortage of judicial officers.

The law minister’s assertion that there was no transparency in the way recommendations were made by collegium comprising of the Chief Justice and four senior most judges of the highest court evidently stems from a desire to control the appointment of judges. Evidently the government would like to appoint judges who appear ‘friendly’ to the government.

There can be no bigger disaster for our democracy if the government gets to appoint judges of its choice. Judiciary is the only pillar of our democracy which has by and large remained independent and that is what is irking the government.

We have all seen how the present government has taken control of almost all the institutions whether it is appointment of governors, vice chancellors, election commissioners, directors of CBI and ED and various other key posts. Even large sections of media have been ‘tamed’ by the government.

It is a fact that the collegium system is not perfect and the highest court must find out ways to ensure more transparency. It is known that it rejects almost half of the recommendations sent by high court collegium without assigning any reason.

It must lay down norms even though it would not be advisable to make public all the grounds of rejection of any candidate. It may also involve retired former chief justices or leading lawyers while evaluating credentials of prospective judges. However any political interference in the appointment of judges must be resisted by all concerned.

Kiren Rijiju

The law minister’s criticism of the functioning of the highest court is also in bad taste. He has questioned the highest court spending time to hear bail matters. He has clearly stepped out of his domain and appears to consider bail matters relating to personal liberty as a trivial matter. Where do the citizens go if bail is denied by lower courts.

Yet another controversy raked up by Rijiju pertains to the long vacation enjoyed by judges. It is a fact that the judges in the country take long breaks – even longer than those in the UK. As per a calculation the Supreme Court has just 193 working days annually, high courts 210 days and trial courts 245 days a year.

Those defending this practice say that judges work for long hours and then use the vacation for catching up on writing judgments and studying fresh cases. The argument may be partly true but judiciary shall have to find a way to reduce the number of holidays.

lawPerhaps it can be done by keeping the courts open throughout the year and individual judges proceeding on leave at different periods so that the normal work of courts do not come to a standstill. This process has been adopted by various other institutions and it is high time the higher judiciary too considers ways to deal with the serious issue.

Therefore while there is substance in the law minister’s suggestion on curtailment of holidays, his desire about government interference in appointment of top judicial officers is fraught with grave danger to the freedom of judiciary guaranteed by the constitution.

Also Read: Judicial Ideology and its Impact on Judges’ Decision Making Process

The collegium system is not the ideal system but the answer to an imperfect system is not a new one which effectively subordinates the judiciary to executive control. The judiciary must be able to act with complete independence and must remain detached from political ideology and public pressure.


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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