Supreme Court judges are human after all. Like ordinary mortals, they do get ‘terrorised’ by bulky petitions numbering 51 volumes, for which they allegedly had to hire a truck to deliver them to the judges’ homes, unless CJI N V Ramana was using hyperbole. For the uninitiated, petitions and pleadings are delivered to the high court and Supreme Court judges’ homes one day prior to the date of hearing. This is done so the judges ascertain what relief the petitioner is seeking from the court and whether the judge has the power to grant that relief.
Now, litigants approach the Supreme Court only on pure questions of law, which arise after any of the 25 high courts render their decisions which involves formulating a question of law of general public importance for the nation. Most of the 194 Supreme Courts of those countries recognised by the United Nations are really not as concerned with individual rights as much as they are concerned with general questions of law for the nation. For, if an individual’s rights are affected, so are those of the general populace or at least a segment of the people whom the aggrieved citizen represents.
This is why it is rare for a CJI like N V Ramana to confess that his judges were ‘terrorised’ by the 51 bulky volumes relating to the TRAI’s tariff order. But if the judges are terrorised by bulky petitions, so too are litigants terrorised by meandering judgments which quote Shakespeare, the Ramayana and Mahabharata when these magnificent epics are not directly concerned with the issues of law raised in these petitions. Judges who attempt to display their erudition by quoting from Shakespeare prove they are conceited.
When litigants approach the Supreme Court, they are represented not by individual lawyers but by law firms or big-gun lawyers who have more than a dozen juniors to do all their spadework. This involves researching all the statutes and the Constitutional provisions violated with the case law emanating from these provisions.
Lawyers complicate the complex to first mystify and then impress their clients and ‘terrorise’ the judges who are hard-pressed to dispose of as many matters within the shortest possible time. The emphasis is on reducing pendency of cases with each Supreme Court and high court judge having their individual report cards as to how many judgments they delivered, the time they took to deliver these judgments and how many were reported in the law journals. Of course, the more judgments are reported in the law journals, the greater acclaim the judge receives.
'Seven sins of judges'
But why did CJI Ramana blame only the lawyers? In 2011, Justice Ruma Pal, while delivering the Tarkunde Memorial Lecture, spoke of the seven sins of judges, including brushing under the carpet, hypocrisy, secrecy, plagiarism and prolixity, arrogance, dishonesty, lack of discipline and nepotism. This is an incredible list from a great judge who treated lawyers fairly, disagreed fearlessly and decided disputes with clarity.
On March 12, 2021, a bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah were displeased by the incomprehensible manner in which the high courts write their judgments. “I had to use Tiger Balm,” quipped Justice M R Shah while hearing arguments in a special leave petition challenging a division bench judgment delivered by the Himachal Pradesh high court. But successive collegia are responsible for elevating lawyers who may be unfit for elevation as high court judges because of their poor English.
Judge Uttam Anand's murder
One wonders whether the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand high court will be pithy and brief while dealing with the murder of Judge Uttam Anand from Dhanbad district of Jharkhand state, who was deliberately knocked down by a tempo while he was jogging on the kerb. CJI Ramana flayed the CBI and the Intelligence Bureau for not promptly responding to judges’ complaints of death threats they had received. In a knee-jerk reaction, the CBI arrested five persons for posting derogatory remarks about judges.
A Supreme Court bench comprising CJI NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant said they were well aware the mafia rules Dhanbad where several advocates had been murdered which was why Judge Uttam Anand should have been provided security. Apart from the mysterious death of Judge B H Loya, which the Supreme Court ruled was a natural death due to a heart attack, the 45th CJI Dipak Misra also received a death threat when his bench rejected the appeal of terrorist Yakub Memon to stay his death sentence.
Threats to judges
The law and justice ministry is the oldest administrative unit of the Modi government created in 1833 by the British but it has not compiled data on death threats received by judges or how many have been attacked or killed. What we know is that an upright British judge, John Paxton Norman, was stabbed in the back under his left shoulder as he ascended the steps of the Town Hall on his way to Court. He had sentenced a Wahabi leader, Amir Khan, to serve life imprisonment in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Khan was revered by the Wahabis as a spiritual leader.
He regained consciousness but died a few hours later on the morning of September 21, 1871. The murderer, identified as one Abdullah, was from Punjab. He was living in a mosque at Calcutta for two years before he stabbed the judge. He was convicted, sentenced and hanged by Judge Gregory Charles Paul – who was the Advocate General in Bengal from 1878 until the end of 1899 when he resigned due to sickness and died on January 1, 1900.
Despite rigorous interrogation, Abdullah did not disclose the names of his accomplices although there was no doubt that he could not have acted alone. Abdullah said he had murdered Justice Paxton as Amir Khan’s conviction had enraged him. Judge Paul disbelieved this statement. Police had already searched the mosque, where he lived, and traced his movements which proved a larger conspiracy. When the judge offered him a relaxation in the sentence if he divulged those who were behind this murder, Abdullah remained silent.
Those who do not expect justice are never disappointed, as CJI Ramana knows very well. This is why judges who deliver justice irrespective of which party comes to power, must be protected.
The writer holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist-cum-advocate of the Bombay high court
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