Saturday, May 03, 2008

Legal System and criticism

Read this excellent op-ed in The Hindu by V R Krishna Iyer. I am glad someone is questioning what the Supreme Court says. In a recent pronouncement, the Chief Justice of India said that judges were "constitutional authorities" and not public servants, and therefore not covered by the Right to Information Act. In an excellent retort, Iyer explains that the difference between "constitutional authority" and public servant is merely semantic. He argues that constitutional authorities are, in fact, a higher category of pubic servant and are therefore more accountable for their actions. If what Iyer says is true, then why is criticism of the courts or legal procedure considered contempt of court? Must the Supreme Court not be subject to the very laws they seek to uphold? As Iyer puts it,
"The Indian judiciary must accept Frankfurter, that frank and superlative U.S. Judge who wrote: “Judges as persons, or courts as institutions, are entitled to no greater immunity from criticism than other persons or institutions."
In a recent order on the defamation cases against Tamil actress Khushboo, the Madras High Court refused to dismiss the 29 cases against her on the grounds that she had expressed not-so-flattering opinions against the judiciary, and that she had no reason to be aggrieved. Excuse me, but I thought I lived in a democracy? A person does not enjoy her fundamental right to constitutional remedy because she dared to say something against the courts, which are responsible for providing that remedy? In a democracy, I have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and expression. Nobody can take that away from me. The courts were, until now, the only neutral and non-partisan forum for justice. If the courts put themselves above the law, how can we trust them to protect the rights of normal people like you and me?

To its credit, India's legal system has managed to remain free from external influences for over 60 years. We cannot afford to let that change. Judges will only be more respected if they agree to subject themselves to the laws they are appointed to uphold. Judges are subject to law, not above it.

1 comment:

Krishna Aradhi said...

No one is above the law. That's fundamental. The sooner the judiciary realises this, the better it is for India.

And by the way, what happened to Khushboo was indeed disgusting.