Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, the next chief justice of India, said that the January 2018 press conference of the Supreme Court’s senior-most judges, was a “disturbing event”, the Hindustan Times reported on Thursday . Bobde, who will take over the top post of the Indian judiciary after outgoing CJI Ranjan Gogoi retires next month, will serve till April 2021.

“The press conference was very disturbing for all of us,” Bobde said in an interview with the newspaper. “It was disturbing to see that things in [the] Supreme Court had come to such a pass. I looked upon all the judges as one court, and knew people on what were being called the two sides. I did what came to me naturally.”

The chief justice-designate said that the situation back then was difficult, adding that it was very different now. He claimed that the relationship between the judges was better. “Judges often interact with each other informally; there is no communication gap between the judges too,” he said. “I consider all the judges as one and they all represent the Supreme Court together.”

In January 2018, Gogoi and Justices Madan B Lokur, Jasti Chelameswar and Kurien Joseph, held an unprecedented press conference and levelled allegations against then CJI Dipak Misra of violating conventions and allowing the executive to interfere in the court’s affairs. They alleged that “democracy is in danger”. All the judges except Gogoi are retired now.

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On the much-debated matter of the death penalty, Bobde said he had no opposition to it if the law provided for it. “Judges take an oath to uphold the law,” he said in an interview to NDTV on Wednesday. “The law provides for the death penalty today, and its constitutional validity has been upheld. It is in the statute book.”

Bobde also said that he was not in favour of disclosing information on the collegium’s rejections of members of the higher judiciary. He said this was because people’s reputations were at stake.

In 2018, former CJI Misra had introduced a system where reasons for elevating or rejecting judges were disclosed. “Withholding information about a person not suitable to become a judge does not amount to secrecy; it is privacy,” he told Hindustan Times.

Bobde claimed that criticism of judges, and not judgements, amounted to defamation.

The chief justice-designate also spoke about implementing technology involving artificial intelligence in the country’s courtrooms. “One, artificial intelligence can create a legal research assistant, answering questions pertaining to a particular case,” he told NDTV. “Second, it can take away the drudgery of repetitive tasks, leaving the judge free to apply his mind on the growth of the law. It can also help with things like clubbing cases together.”

Bobde had on Wednesday also refused to comment on the United Nations’ statement that the Supreme Court was slow in dealing with petitions concerning freedom of movement and media curbs in Jammu and Kashmir.

Also read:

  1. ‘Democracy is in danger’: The historic press conference held by four Supreme Court judges
  2. From impeachment motion to internal rift, 2018 was a year of tumult for India’s judiciary

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