Judiciary: Public should maintain restraint on comments about court order/verdicts

We should not forget that it is the court that upholds justice, protect people's rights. Had the judiciary not been there, whatever the two powerful organs of the state — executive and legislature — wanted to happen, could happen. It is the judiciary that checks the excesses of the executive and the legislature.

Recently, some sections of society criticised some of the orders and verdicts passed by the Supreme Court.

While the intellectual debate on court verdicts are always possible, making comments on court order and verdicts in a manner that could erode people’s faith in the judiciary and judicial system cannot be termed fair. The judiciary is a state organ that is different from two other organs of the state — executive and legislature.

It is people's faith in the judiciary that gives courage to judges to uphold justice in any adverse situation. Judges have risked their lives in many countries to deliver justice. Judgement delivered by judges to the case always makes one party happy and the other unhappy. But judges have to uphold justice and cannot think of pleasing everyone while giving their verdicts. The public should always maintain neutral views about the judiciary and they should not have any prejudice against any judge.

The court delivers verdict after hearing arguments of both sides in the case. Judges analyse the case from all angles and use judicial mind before handing down their verdicts.

If people are allowed to make comments about the judgment passed by judges after hearing arguments of both sides of the case and after using their judicial mind, then that could signal an end of the judiciary. The judiciary is not a place where people can seek to fulfil their vested interests. Let us not criticise the judiciary and judges on whims. Justice should be delivered independently and it should not be influenced by public sentiment. If people do not respect the process of justice and try to put pressure on the judges to deliver verdicts that they think would suit them, then there will not be independence of the judiciary.

Criticism against court verdicts and orders show that people are making comments without understanding the court process. Some people express their opinions without understanding the basic difference between the final verdict and a bail order. It is also important for society to integrate the offender into it. Paying reparation and compensation to victim's family is an important part of restorative justice. Our new penal code has changed our justice system in a fundamentally different way. While the penal code has increased sentence for some serious offenders, the code has incorporated provisions related to restorative justice. There is also provision for open jail for light offenders. There is also provision for parole and probation.

I am not saying that judges are infallible. In fact, judges are also human beings and like other human beings, they are prone to mistakes. It is because of the realisation of this fact that countries around the world have introduced a system of tiers of courts. They spend millions of rupees running more than one tier of court. Had judges been infallible, countries would not have spent millions of rupees to run two, three, or even more tiers of courts.

The theory behind having layers of court is that when judges of a lower court make mistakes, their mistakes could be corrected by the higher courts. For example, when district court makes mistake in a case, the high court corrects the mistake of the district court. Similarly, when a high court judge passes a wrong order or judgment, then the Supreme Court can check that order and judgment. Our courts are doing the same thing every day. Even the mistakes of the Supreme Court, the apex court, are corrected by way of judicial review. Larger benches are formed to hear the verdicts of the Supreme Court.

People should wait till the last verdict is delivered by the court before they make unfair comment about the judgments. But what is unfortunate is that some people make unnecessary comments about a verdict before pronouncement of the final verdict by the apex court.

People should not create an environment where courts could feel pressure to pass order and verdicts in favour of the party that files the charge sheet in a criminal case just because some people want that. If such things are allowed, then the state would be authoritative and police could feel that they are supreme. Judges always rely on case files to deliver justice. Sometimes, skills of lawyers representing the cases also play a role in sharing court verdicts. Had that not been the case, case parties would not seek the service of experienced and senior advocates. They would not spend hefty money to hire lawyers they think could best represent their cases. Lawyers cite precedents and through their skills try to convince judges to give judgment in their clients' favour. Sometimes judges pass order and verdicts keeping in mind the relevant laws and equity.

If people do not maintain restraint about the judiciary, its verdicts and orders, and if people make comments about the court verdicts and orders, then that could erode people's faith in the judiciary. In that case, there won’t be the rule of law. If the judiciary is weakened, it won't be able to defend people's fundamental rights. Thus respecting the dignity of the judiciary and protecting the temple of justice from unfair comments serve our own interests.

We should not forget that it is the court that upholds justice, protect people's rights. Had there not been the judiciary, whatever the two powerful organs of the state — executive and legislature wanted to happen, could happen. It is the judiciary that checks the excesses of the executive and the legislature. It is the judiciary that terms government's moves against a citizen unconstitutional and illegal. Therefore, people and media should not do anything that could erode people’s faith in the judiciary.

Media and the public should neither praise nor oppose any particular verdict, or else, that could put judges under pressure to issue a particular kind of verdict. “If judges feel the pressure to award a particular kind of verdict due to the media, then that would be unfair and against the principle of independence of the judiciary. The public should not forget that judges pass orders and verdicts on the basis of case file and evidence which may be different from the public’s perception about a verdict. The public should know that if the institution of judiciary is weakened, then there will be anarchy in the society.

Police investigation in criminal cases is not up to the mark yet and that needs to be reformed. If an investigation of a criminal case is erroneous, the judge cannot do anything about it. There are a lot of things that need to be reformed to improve the quality of the judiciary, but let's not forget the fact that we should not undermine the dignity of the judiciary because a weakened judiciary would not be able to protect our rights and deliver justice.

Pankaj Kumar Karn is an advocate.