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A shut and shut case for the judiciary

Two top Delhi lawyers are given a mild rap on the knuckles by the High Court for what appears to be a serious offence.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2008 21:23 IST

Two top Delhi lawyers are given a mild rap on the knuckles by the High Court for what appears to be a serious offence.

The two have been barred from appearing before the High Court and subordinate courts for four months and asked to pay a nominal fine for trying to influence a key witness in a sensational hit-and-run case. And what does the legal fraternity do? Applaud the court’s decision to censure its own? Not quite.

District bar associations went on strike accusing the High Court of overstepping its jurisdiction. So once again, when under scrutiny, various arms of the judiciary chose to deflect attention from themselves rather than encourage a transparency consistent with our democratic traditions.

This is a shame given that the apex court, in particular, has used its constitutional mandate to initiate action in the public interest. But when it comes to any attempt to prise open the tightly shut doors of the judiciary, it often responds with contempt proceedings. The government, on its part, has weighed in on the side of opacity, stating that the Right To Information (RTI) Act doesn’t cover Supreme and High Court judges. The Law Minister is surely overstepping his brief here.

The saga of the RTI shows how reluctant our governing institutions are to subject themselves to any sort of public scrutiny. Security, of course, is the usual bogeyman invoked to keep everyone in the dark. But surely a judiciary as active as ours has nothing to fear from laying bare its workings.

By excluding crucial organs of State from the purview of the RTI, this legislation is being undermined. In fact, the judiciary should lead the charge against the official mindset that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. By all means, don’t open up certain areas that could have security implications for the country (a fuzzy area here). But the effort should be to lessen the number of sacred cows that we have today, not get more into the shed.