SC judges speak out over ‘gossip, slander’ SC judges speak out over ‘gossip, slander’

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SC judges speak out over ‘gossip, slander’

Updated: Sep 13, 2020 06:31 IST
By Murali Krishnan
Judges have become targets for criticism, especially on social media, and their freedom to defend themselves is limited, the two senior most judges in the Supreme Court said at an event on Saturday — comments that become significant in light of criticism of recent orders of the apex court, and its own dealing of such criticism.

Judges have become soft targets on social media and are subject to relentless criticism and juicy gossip, justice NV Ramana said on Saturday at an event, adding that they restrain themselves from speaking in their own defence.

Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, speaking at the same event, concurred with justice Ramana’s views, saying “freedom of speech of judges is curtailed by the same laws and machinery that uphold the freedom for others who use it to criticise the judiciary and judges”. The chief justice’s reference is to the convention that judges do not speak of their judgments, or defend themselves from criticism of the same.

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Justice Ramana, next in line to become the Chief Justice of India, said judges have to be very circumspect when it comes to their social life as they have no platform to respond to criticism and can speak only through their judgments and judicial work.

“Judges are restrained from speaking out in their own defence. Today, judges have become soft target of criticism and especially with the advent of social media , they have become subject to juicy gossip. There seems to be a misunderstanding that judges lead a life of luxury in their ivory towers. That is not true. Judges have to balance their social lives in order to be independent,” he said in his speech at the launch of a book authored by recently retired Supreme Court judge, justice R Banumathi.

The remarks come in the backdrop of a case involving activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan. On August 31, the apex court imposed a “nominal fine” of Re 1 on Bhushan after he was convicted for criminal contempt for two tweets that it deemed were against the judiciary, saying he has attempted to “denigrate the reputation of the institution of administration of justice”.

Justice Banumathi’s book titled ‘Judiciary, Judges and the Administration of Justice’ was released by CJI Bobde, who handed over the first copy to justice Ramana.

Justice Ramana said that from his own experience, he can say that the life of a judge is not better than that of others and that even their family members have to make sacrifices in the interests of duty.

Judges do not speak about cases before them or respond to any criticism as a matter of propriety and convention. Besides, “Restatement of values of Judicial Life”, which was a charter adopted by a full court of the Supreme Court in 1997, broadly governs conduct of Supreme Court and high court judges. It says that judges should not enter into public debate or express their views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or are likely to arise for judicial determination. It also says that judges should not give interviews to media and a judge is expected to let his or her judgments speak for themselves.

Justice Ramana will take over as CJI from justice Bobde on April 24, 2021 and will serve for almost a year-and-half before he retires in August 2022.

“Judges are becoming victims of juicy gossip and slanderous social media posting,” he said.

Last week, another Supreme Court judge, justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, said that courts are increasingly being asked to decide on policy issues that are brought before it under the guise of public interest litigations and that as a result, they face a lot of criticism.

The courts, he maintained, have their limitations and have not been tasked with the responsibility of running the country and cannot perform the role of the government.

Separately, at the same event, CJI Bobde warned of the surge in pendency in cases on account of the pandemic and suggested mediation as a way to resolve the logjam.

“There will be huge pendency of cases due to the pandemic. I don’t think there is a way out of it but only a way through it. I think it can be resolved through mediation. I am not suggesting that we should go for mediation in every case but I don’t think we can go about it in the usual way. We will have to put our minds together (to find a solution),” he said.

The CJI also highlighted the significance of mental health during the pandemic, saying the Supreme Court has come up with an initiative to provide mental health support and the secretary general will be making an announcement in this regard soon.

The CJI said the judiciary belongs to the nation and its achievements are the result of “unflinching dedication” and commitment of numerous individuals on and off the bench.

He said that for judges and consequently for the judiciary, the biggest challenge is to ensure that the nation inches towards the goal set in the Constitution.

(With inputs from PTI)

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