Several retired judges have expressed their dismay to The Quint over comments made by Justice Arun Mishra at the International Judicial Conference in New Delhi on Saturday, 22 February, in which the sitting judge of the Supreme Court effusively praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Delivering the vote of thanks, following speeches by the PM, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Justice Mishra said that “under the stewardship of internationally acclaimed visionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” India was committed to constitutional obligations and is a “responsible and most friendly member of the international community.”
He also thanked the PM for his speech, saying,
"“We thank the versatile genius, who thinks globally and acts locally, Shri Narendra Modi, for his inspiring speech which would act as a catalyst in initiating the deliberations and setting the agenda for the conference.”" - Justice Arun Mishra
‘Creates Doubt About Independence of Judiciary’
Justice (retd) AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and former chairman of the Law Commission of India, said that without any disrespect to the Prime Minister, he had to record his “strong disapproval” for these kind of comments by a sitting judge of the apex court.
"“This is unbecoming of a sitting judge, to pay such compliments to the head of the Executive. It is wholly unnecessary and making such comments also creates doubt about the independence of the judiciary, how independent it is from the Executive. These comments should have been avoided by the judge.”" - Justice (retd) AP Shah
‘Justice Mishra Should Abide by Traditions of the Court’
Justice (retd) RS Sodhi, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, also said that such comments could send the wrong message about the judiciary and the objectivity of judges who often have to hear cases in which the government is a party.
"“The government is a litigant and as a litigant it is equal with other citizens vis-a-vis the rule of law. It is best never to start patting the Prime Minister on the back or anything of the sort. Because it sends the wrong message that the learned judge is not objective in his outlook when dealing with cases.”" - Justice (retd) RS Sodhi
He noted that back when Indira Gandhi won the general elections in 1980, Justice Bhagwati of the Supreme Court had written a letter congratulating her for her ‘remarkable achievement’, as he put it. The letter was condemned by advocates, seniors and retired judges at the time, as ‘it was felt that the judiciary should not align itself with the Executive and keep their comments absolutely to themselves”, Justice Sodhi recalls.
“I don’t think anything has changed since that time and today,” he says, adding that there has been a tradition among judges to avoid expressing any opinions publicly, as the judiciary is an independent institution.
"“I think Justice Mishra also should abide by what has been the tradition of this court, and there’s no need to set new boundaries and things like that. Traditions must be respected and traditions must be followed.”" - Justice (retd) RS Sodhi‘Best Joke of the Year’
Justice (retd) PB Sawant, a former judge of the Supreme Court, said that “it is most inappropriate for a sitting judge to praise the Prime Minister in this manner.”
The retired judge was scathing in his disapproval of the context in which the comments were made, and said he wanted it put on record that he had said “it was the best joke of the year”.
Another retired judge of the Supreme Court also said that he“had a good laugh” after he heard the statements, which, however, he said “should not be made from a public platform.” He further expressed his disappointment over such statements being made by a sitting judge of the apex court, and raised concerns over what this would mean for the institution going forward.
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