'Stop when judges walk past': Allahabad HC diktat for office bearers entrenches medieval notions of hierarchy

While one can be critical of such manifest notions of hierarchy, the fact remains that with each order like the one passed by Allahabad High Court registry, it gets more entrenched.

Shishir Tripathi April 04, 2019 16:24:45 IST
'Stop when judges walk past': Allahabad HC diktat for office bearers entrenches medieval notions of hierarchy
  • Those with a ringside view of the court system in India might brush it off

  • There are numerous instances to highlight this hierarchy

  • No one can do much apart from expressing mildly-worded anguish

The Allahabad High Court registry passed an order on 3 April that read: “It is, directed that the officers/officials while passing through the galleries meant for the movement of the Hon’ble Judges shall stop whenever they see that the Hon’ble Judges are passing through the galleries and pay highest respect to Their Lordships. Any deviation in this regard shall be viewed seriously.”

On June 7, 1949, during a Constituent Assembly debate, one of its prominent members Mahavir Tyagi commented that the “seats they occupy are the seats of gods,” while referring to the judges and the higher judiciary. His observations were dismissed by BR Ambedkar as mere “feelings” which were perhaps of lesser significance for the Assembly that was debating the constitutional edifice of the country.

Stop when judges walk past Allahabad HC diktat for office bearers entrenches medieval notions of hierarchy

Allahabad High Court. File photo. News 18

Ambedkar’s rebuke to Tyagi was important for the fact that judges should not be elevated to the stature of God: as it runs a risk that they might assume morality other than the one dictated by Constitution; that they tend to uphold. However, an office order issued by the registry of Allahabad High Court seems to be more in consonance with what Tyagi felt about Milords than what Ambedkar felt.

In the name of Milords, the registry passed an order for the ‘lesser mortals’ to behave with respect and reverence when they are in the vicinity of Hon’ble Judges. The order passed on April 3, read, “It has often been noticed that while Hon’ble Judges pass through the galleries for sitting in Court and also retiring to Their Lordship’s Chambers, the officials/officers passing in the way do no stop to wait for the Honb’le Judges to cross them, which is clearly an act of disrespect.”

It added, “It is, therefore, directed that the officers/officials while passing through the galleries meant for the movement of the Hon’ble Judges shall stop whenever they see that the Hon’ble Judges are passing through the galleries and pay highest respect to Their Lordships. Any deviation in this regard shall be viewed seriously.”

While such medieval notions of hierarchy and its manifestations might surprise many, those with a ringside view of the functioning of the court system in India might brush it off with “what’s new?”

Eminent jurist Fali Nariman in an interview said, “I have seen chief justices of the high court referring to SC judges as ‘Milord, will you have tea’ and all that. In England they call each other by first their names. But here everyone understands that if you don’t address them (SC judges) as ‘Your Lordships’, you will not be elevated. This sort of inflated ego exists. The bungalows and all that paraphernalia adds to it.”

There are numerous instances where Milords' decision to uphold and entrench this ‘hierarchy’ have caused humour and criticism in equal measure. Nariman in the interview pointed out that how a former Supreme Court judge once told him that one of the chief justices after assuming the charge, got five big chairs placed, and asked all the most senior judges to sit as per their seniority.

There are numerous instances to highlight this hierarchy: From when a chief justice of the high court preferred to be referred as ‘chief’ to the police jumping to stop the traffic as the ‘lordship’s car left court. While one can be critical of such manifest notions of hierarchy, the fact remains that with each order like the one passed by Allahabad High Court registry, it gets more entrenched. And no one can do much apart from expressing mildly-worded anguish.

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