Despair is something that we experience daily in this country and sometimes even the best among us react strangely to difficult situations. This can be proved by the statements that were made by two judges in recent times: On Friday, Justice S Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court lamented that it was “unfortunate” that India, unlike in Iran, did not have “laws to chop off hands and fingers” of fraudsters who forge property documents. He added that if laws were “rigid and deterrent”, criminals would not dare to indulge in illegal activities like the case at hand, wherein officials of a sub-registrar office were hand in glove with criminals to help them usurp and loot the properties of innocents. A few months ago Justice P Devadass of the Madras High Court made similar sweeping statement on the growing popularity of mobile phones. In a stinging comment, he said that mobiles were “highly inflammable torches” and “open doors of danger” for youngsters.
While one understands that these comments were made because there was ‘provocation’ — of trying but not managing to change the way things are run in this country — the judges could have avoided making such sweeping generalisations because they are the guardians of rational thought and logic. Such generalisations often indicate a mindset that gives expression to one’s own belief in what is perceived to be right. Judicial observations can be oral, or ratio decidendi — pertaining to the issue and legally binding. Or it could be obiter dicta, meaning they are just “observations used persuasively to expand the development of law”. Often, blunders happen because many judges have imperfect skills when it comes to writing judgments and so prejudices seep in as it happens to each one of us.
Other than the fact that judges have a reputation to live up to — logical, fair and balanced, they must realise that their views shape opinions, influence citizens and strengthen discourses and so such off hand comments are not just questionable/debatable but also show the whole judiciary in a poor light.