Supreme Court in 2018: Crisis of confidence and an unprecedented event
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Supreme Court in 2018: Crisis of confidence and an unprecedented event

In an unprecedented event in January, four judges of the Supreme Court had objected to the manner in which important cases were being allocated, and called for collective leadership.

2018 year that was Updated: Dec 31, 2018 08:34 IST
Supreme Court,Judges press meet,Justice J Chelameswar
Supreme Court Judges ( L to R ) Kurian Joseph, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur addressing the media in New Delhi on January 12.(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

When four senior Supreme Court judges aired their grievances before the media early this year, they brought to the fore differences simmering in India’s top judiciary and set off intense scrutiny of the top court’s credibility. In that unprecedented January event, Justice J Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi (now the Chief Justice of India), Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Madan B Lokur objected to the manner in which important cases were being allocated, and called for collective leadership.

The Supreme Court collegium — all the four judges and the then CJI, Dipak Misra, were part of it —takes collective decision on the matters of appointment, but the Chief Justice of India is considered the ‘first among the equals’. In the words of Justice Chelameswar (now retired), that press conference was an “extraordinary event in the history of the nation, more particularly this nation”.

He said the administration of the Supreme Court was not in order and many things which were less than desirable had happened, though the judges refrained from making public all the details of what they thought to have gone wrong.

The judges said they were forced to speak in public, breaking the settled principle of judicial restraint, because the CJI did not take steps to redress their grievances. Speaking to HT back then, people close to the CJI refuted the allegations and stressed that judges in the top court were equal and that work was allocated fairly. The event opened the court to external scrutiny, and challenged the sanctity of the judiciary in a manner the country had never seen before.

After the differences came out in the open, lawyers, politicians and analysts took sides, with some insisting that the judges should not have gone public and others countering that they had no option.

“The press conference should not be seen as a revolt or a challenge to authority. It must be seen as a desperate cry to set right a revered institution,” Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde wrote in HT. The press meet did have some impact. Some changes were ushered in by CJI Misra, and the roster, or the way work is allocated, was made public.

Then in April, seven opposition parties led by the Congress moved a notice for the impeachment of Misra, accusing him of “misbehaviour” and “misuse” of authority in the administration of the court. Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu rejected the notice. It was for the first time in the history of independent India that an attempt to remove a sitting Chief Justice was even initiated. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Opposition of politicising the court.

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First Published: Dec 31, 2018 08:34 IST