After four senior Supreme Court judges spoke out against the administration of India’s top court, several senior lawyers and lawmakers reacted saying it was time the chief justice addressed the issue.
Justice J Chelameswar, who is lower in seniority only to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, said the Supreme Court owed a responsibility to the institution and the nation.
He was joined by three other judges, Justice Rajan Gogoi, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph, who all said they were speaking out now so that “democracy survives”, as their attempts to get the chief justice of India to address a crisis had gone unanswered.
Senior advocate Salman Khurshid said there must be “a sense of agony that the highest court of the land should come under such stress that forces its judges to address the media”, while senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the development has “cast a huge shadow on the chief justice”.
Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha told NDTV that Misra should have “addressed and solved” the judges’ grievances. He said, “The image of judiciary has been dented and it will take a long time to repair it.”
Indira Jaising, another Supreme Court advocate, called the press conference “historic”. “I think we, the people of India, have a right to know what is going on within the judiciary,” she said.
“We cannot criticise them,” Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy said, according to ANI. “They are men of great integrity and have sacrificed a lot of their legal career, where they could’ve made money as senior counsels. We must respect them,” Swamy said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must ensure the four judges, the chief justice and the entire Supreme Court discusses the issue.
Former Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly told News18 he was “distressed” by what had happened. He added, “The government is caught in a fix. This is an internal issue of the judiciary. Government has no say in the judiciary.”
Former Law Minister Hansraj Bharadwaj said the allegations made by the judges is a loss of prestige for the entire institution. “If you lose public’s trust, what remains?” Bharadwaj told ANI. “Judiciary must remain the pillar of democracy. It is the responsibility of the law minister to see how it functions.”
Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said the four judges are asking for an institutional remedy. “They are saying there are rules made for a certain reason. In the second part of the letter, there is an unsaid implication that the chief justice is letting the government walk all over the institution. It shows that whatever happened in the Medical Council of India [case], this is not just one judge against another judge. They do not want judges fighting in the corridors of court”.
He added that the top court’s judges have never protested in such a public manner before, pointing out that when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1974, had superseded 3 judges to appoint a chief justice, the senior judges had resigned.
Others said the press conference set a “bad precedent” and was “immature and childish”.
Soli Sorabjee, the former attorney-general, said he was “upset” about the press conference. “I wish the four Supreme Court judges hadn’t done this. This will have severe repercussions on judiciary.”
Senior lawyer Ujjwal Nikam said, “From now on every common man would look at all judicial order with suspicion.” It sets a bad precedent, he said.
“I think all four judges should be impeached, they have no business to sit there and deliver verdicts anymore,” retired Supreme Court Justice RS Sodhi told The Indian Express.
“Four get together and show the chief justice in a poor light. It is immature and childish behaviour,” Sodhi said, adding that such “trade unionism” was wrong.