Judges should not be swayed by `noise' of social media: CJI

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Ahmedabad, Jun 30 (PTI) Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana on Wednesday said the judges should not get swayed by the 'emotional pitch of public opinion' which gets amplified through social media platforms.

Delivering the 17th Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture on the topic 'Rule of Law' through video conference, he also batted for complete judicial freedom.

'For the judiciary to apply checks on governmental power and actions, it has to have complete freedom. The judiciary cannot be controlled, directly or indirectly, by the legislature or the executive, or else the rule of law will become illusory,' he said.

'At the same time, judges should not be swayed by the emotional pitch of public opinion either, which is getting amplified through social media platforms. Judges will have to be mindful of the fact that the noise thus amplified is not necessarily reflective of what is right and what the majority believes,' he said.

The new media tools, with their 'enormous amplifying ability,' are 'incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad, and the real and fake,' the CJI said. 'Therefore, media trials cannot be a guiding factor in deciding cases,' he warned.

'While there is a lot of discussion about the pressures from the executive, it is also imperative to stop and discuss how social media trends can affect the institution. The above, however, should not be understood as meaning that judges and judiciaries need to completely dissociate from what is going on,' he said.

The main function of the judiciary, Justice Ramana said, is judicial review of laws. The responsibility of safeguarding constitutionalism, however, does not rest only on the courts, he said.

'All the three organs of the state--the executive, legislature and judiciary--are equal repositories of the constitutional trust. The role of the judiciary and the scope of judicial access is limited, and it only pertains to the facts placed before it. Its limitation calls for other organs to resume responsibilities of upholding constitutional values and ensuring justice in the first place with the judiciary acting as an important check,' he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic 'might be a mere curtain-raiser to a much larger crisis in the decades to come,', therefore we must at least 'begin the process of analyzing what we did right and where we went wrong,' he said.

An important part of the principle of equality before law is ensuring equal access to justice, the CJI said.

'I must emphasize that in a democratic country like ours, access to justice forms the bedrock of the rule of law,' he said.

Justice Ramana also said that 'bias and prejudice necessarily lead to injustice, particularly when it relates to the minorities'.

'Consequently, the principles of the rules of law in respect of vulnerable sections have to necessarily be more inclusive of their social conditions that hinder their progress,' he further said.

Talking about the role of people in democracy, he pointed out that in 17 general elections held in the country so far, people 'changed the ruling party' in eight elections or nearly 50 per cent of the times.

'In spite of large-scale inequality, illiteracy, backwardness, poverty and the alleged ignorance, the people of independent India have proved themselves to be intelligent and up to the task,' he said. PTI KA PD KRK KRK

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