Speaking at a function organised by the Youth Bar Association of India on 29 September, 2018, which was a few days before he took oath as Chief Justice of India on 3 October, Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that delay in justice is bringing the judiciary into disrepute, and that he had a plan for (a) resolving the problem of arrears (3.3 crore cases in Indian courts) and (b) providing access to justice to the poverty stricken people, a plan which he would soon unfold.
Many CJIs have come and gone who made similar announcements, but nothing changed. For instance, former CJI HL Dattu said that all cases will be decided within 5 years, but it seems it was only a 'jumla'.
Tens of thousands of under trials are rotting in jail in India without a hearing, the Amnesty International in its 2017 report ' Justice under trial ' reported. One Nasiruddin Ahmed was acquitted by the Supreme Court but after spending 23 years in jail in horrible conditions. Similarly, one Amir was incarcerated for 14 years before being proven innocent. There are many such examples.
In the Allahabad High Court, criminal appeals come up for hearing after 30 years of being filed, and in Bombay High Court original side cases have been pending for over 20 years. Anyone unluckily caught up in the web of the Indian courts knows what litigation means — 'tareekh pe tareekh'.
As for providing access to justice, Justice Gogoi said in his speech "enabling a person who cannot come to court to come to court, and travelling beyond legal aid and expanding the scope of legal service, to give each man his due under the law, without having to come to court ".
Dimwitted as I am, I could not understand a word of what these pearls of wisdom meant.
Instead of seeing Justice Gogoi's grand plan 'unfold', what we are seeing instead are things which are disturbing :
(1) Personal liberty is enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, and in Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India which is a seven-judge Constitution bench judgment of the Supreme Court, the following observation of the celebrated Lord Denning in Ghani vs Jones, (1970 ) 1 Q.B. 693 was quoted with approval, "A man's liberty of movement is regarded so highly by the laws of England that it is not to be hindered or prevented except on the surest grounds ", thus becoming the law of the land in India too.
Yet, in the case of Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who was satirical on Twitter for which he, even, apologised, he was denied bail despite the settled principle laid down by the legendary Justice Krishna Iyer in State of Rajasthan vs Balchand, and repeated recently by Justice Lokur, the next in seniority to the CJI, in Dataram Singh vs State of UP, that bail, not jail, is the normal rule, unless the accused was likely to tamper with the evidence or abscond or was accused of a grave and heinous offence like murder, dacoity or gang rape, which Abhijit was not. Without adverting to these decisions and principles, the CJI summarily rejected the bail plea with the flippant and cruel remark, unexpected of a person on such a high post, that the accused was safest in jail.
(2) In the case of Rohingyas sought to be deported to Myanmar, Justice Gogoi practically made the petition infructuous by refusing an early hearing. When counsel Prashant Bhushan said that it was the duty of the court to protect the lives of the petitioners, the CJI reportedly lost his temper, and said " Dont tell us our duty ".
(3) A case of the Attorney General, KK Venugopal, was dismissed even before he could start arguing. The Attorney General told Gogoi that people come from far off places at heavy cost, and it was not proper to dismiss their cases even without a hearing.
(4) In the CBI case, Justice Gogoi lost his temper and started fuming because of 'leakage' to a news portal. In fact, as Fali Nariman, the counsel for Alok Verma later pointed out, the portal had only published the queries by the CVC to Verma, and not the report of the CVC to the Court or Verma's response to this report, which were ordered to be kept in a sealed cover (which the portal did not have). So Justice Gogoi lost his temper over nothing, but such uncalled for tantrums, and baseless insinuations demoralise the brave and independent journalists, who are as it is rare nowadays in the country.
(5) Justice Gogoi also displayed his wrath over the handing over to the media of the petition of MKSinha, the DIG of CBI, who has made allegations against a Minister and Ajit Doval. But what was wrong in it ? Once a petition is filed in the Court registry, it becomes public property, and anyone can see it and report it. What is confidential about it ?
(6) Justice Gogoi's remark to the lawyers " None of you deserve a hearing " and to the staff of the Court " You should quit " were uncalled for, and totally unexpected of a judge in the higher judiciary, leave alone a CJI, who should display modesty, balance, restraint and equanimity.
So, instead of seeing a grand plan unfolding to clear Court arrears, what we are actually seeing is a Chief Justice given to immodesty, petulance, impatience and bursts of irascibility.
The author is a former Supreme Court judge and former chairman for the Press Council of India
Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 12:34 PM