Judges' revolt-contempt of court

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Judges' revolt-contempt of court

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This online petition is addressed to the President of india and the Prime Minister in the context of the judges' revolt where in the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court of India-Jasti Chelameshwar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph- next only to the Chief Justice of India, had conducted a press conference on 12 Jan 2018 and made wild allegations against the latter in the matter of managing the roster and imputing the Chief Justice to be a victim of pressure from the Executive and allotting cases to benches of 'their preference'!

The allegation is considered wild because the allotment of cases is purely a matter of discretion of the Chief Justice as the Master of the Roster. It cannot be accepted that the Chief Justice will have to consult a collegium even in the matter of allotment of cases. Worse, this implicitly questions the integrity and competence of the Chief Justice even in the simple matter of allotting cases. In any case, 'uncle judges' and 'bench hunting' are terms quite popular in legal circles and adequately familiar with judiciary watchers.

The allegations lacked consistency even when viewed at face value. The four judges had claimed that the Chief Justice was just one amoung equals but then went on to consider the other judges, junior to them in service in the apex court, as not amoung their own equals!

The controversy now seems to have been laid to rest by the Chief Justice of India allotting cases subject wise to these four judges apart from himself. It is not clear if even the junior judges have been divided amoung these five judges of the Collegium so that they have their own single benches, division benches and constitution benches to deal with the various cases in their categories.

Coming to the 'rational' basis for allotment of cases one is reminded of the judgements in what is popularly (or is it notoriously?) known as the petrol pumps allotment cases. Capt Satish Sharma, the then Union Minister for Petroleum, was alleged to have misused his discretion in the allotment of petrol pumps. The first judgement found him guilty and imposed a massive fine of Rs 50 lakhs on him. On appeal, the judgement was reversed with the observation that there was no misuse of discretion!

A few observations about the Collegium system created by the judiciary, during the periods when we had coalition/weak governments at the Center, will not be out of place. It had its begining with the apex court claiming that the 'consultation' provided in Article 124(2) implies that the President is bound by the advice of the Chief Justice of India! Interestingly this article only states, and states specifically, that this consultation shall be with such judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts in the States 'as the President may deem necessary' with the provision that the CJI shall be 'consulted' in the matter of appointment of judges other than the Chief Justice! In fact Article 127 and 128 explicitly states that 'the Chief Justice of India, may, with the previous 'consent' of the President...' indicating where the line of liberty ends for the judiciary and begins for Executive. It also does differentiate between consultation and consent, if ever it was required so explicitly!

Suffice to say that the judiciary as an institution requires total reforms if it were to meet the legitimate expectations of the citizen, tax payers. Since an online petition of this nature cannot be too lengthy I invite your attention to the three critiques refererred to below for more details:

Judges revolt: The last nail on the coffin of judicial credibility? published on 22 Jan 2018 and available at http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4562

Judges revolt: What ails our Judiciary? published on 31 Jan 2018 and available at http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4571 and

Judges revolt: Can our Judiciary be saved? published on 10 February 2018 and available at http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4581

This petition is to request you to ensure that the judges revolt does not end up as the last nail on the coffin of judicial credibility. The four judges cannot continue in office because their offence falls in the same category and is definitely worse than that of C S Karnan, then sitting judge of the Kolkatta High Court who had been sent to prison for six months under the Contempt of Court laws for writing to every authority concerned about corruption in judiciary and about his own being a victim under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Article 124(4) should not remain a scare crow to fool the public any longer!

In this context the following facts are also pertinent:

(i) Article 124(4) does not make any exemption for punishment under Contempt of Court
(ii) It may be argued that Karnan was not removed from office but only sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and it was just coincidental that he 'retired' while undergoing the sentence.
(iii) If the argument at (ii) is to be accepted then it needs to be clarified whether a sitting judge sentenced to imprisonment can return to his job if other factors were in his favour.
(iv) Also it needs to be clarified if a sitting judge can be punished for offences other than contempt of court without resorting to Article 124(4) of the Constitution.
(v) It further needs to be clarified whether a judge who has been punished or resigns just before such punishment or on the eve of impeachment is eligible to get his terminal benefits and pension.

The very term democracy and the Preamble of the Constitution does not leave any doubt about who are the sovereign entities in this country. It is also true that we, the People, have shared part of our sovereign powers, of making laws, with our political representatives with the mandate well set forth in the Constitution itself. (It is a diffferent thing that one really can't discern whether we are empowering our representatives to make laws for the good of the society or just electing some people to go around cutting ribbons and lighting lamps at inaugural functions in their constituencies!) Continuity in governance is ensured by providing a bureaucracy to administer the laws and a judiciary to clarify the laws where conflicting interpretations appear to exist. This continuity should also not be a reason for the peoples' representatives to feel handicapped and act like puppets.

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