The newly appointed Chief Justice Hari Prasad Sharma, with a seven-month tenure, seems to have devised a new quick way of deciding a case without forming a bench and holding a formal hearing. On Friday, after assuming office, he told journalists that the circumstances did not warrant a review of the Supreme Court’s verdict that had upheld the dissoloution of the House. Sharma also commented on the duty of the political parties on the issue. Whether the House should be restored or not is a separate matter. What is at issue is certain norms that the holders of high office, particularly the judges, should observe. A citizen is not allowed to comment on sub judice cases on the ground that this might prejudice justice. But such comment coming from the head of the judiciary (clearly ruling out the review of the petition that has been lying with it, with the petitioner applying for a speedy hearing) cannot fail to have serious and widespread implications for democratic governance.

The Supreme Court is solely authorised to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, it is supposed to review the case and rule whether its earlier decision was right or needed to be changed. Such a simple act would have clinched the issue. According to the apex court’s five-year plan, a writ petition should be decided within six months and, according to its existing practice, within two years. And the review petition in question has crossed the two-year mark. Moreover, the CJ is not expected to pontificate on what the political parties should or should not do. By commenting on these two issues, the CJ has created a public impression of acting more like a politician than a judge. What the CJ says in public on such important public matters cannot be taken to be his personal opinion.

Now, what would the poor petitioner think of the judiciary? Naturally, he would think that the Supreme Court itself, as the CJ is its standard bearer, holds pre-conceived notions and prejudice and that it cannot therefore deliver an indepenent and impartial justice. Tomorrow, if the court decides to uphold its earlier decision, even the general people will feel that the decision was a foregone conclusion. Besides, the issue of House restoration cannot just be dismissed as a political one, because even if the House were to be restored through a political decision, the Supreme Court would still have the constitutional authority to judge whether the restoration was constitutional, as its several verdicts on House dissolution have established.

Keeping the review petition in limbo has raised questions of dereliction of duty. The impression of judicial impartiality about the case has already been considerably damaged by the CJ’s highly objectionable remarks.