Justice DY Chandrachud: ‘Judicial independence doesn’t mean insulation of judges from rule of law’

Ananthakrishnan G
Justice D Y Chandrachud

Concurring with judgments which said that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Justice D Y Chandrachud on Wednesday called for placing “the basis for selection and appointment of judges to the higher judiciary...in the public realm”.

On the collegium system, he wrote that the “collegium owes its birth to judicial interpretation”, and “if the content of the right and the enforcement of the statute are to possess a meaningful dimension in their application to the judiciary, as it must, certain steps are necessary”.

He also called for the need for greater transparency in the appointment process of judges and observed that “candour and frankness cannot be the reason to preclude disclosures of correspondence between constitutional functionaries...”

Emphasising the importance of accountability in judiciary, he noted, “The institution cannot be called upon to insulate and protect a judge from actions which have no bearing on the discharge of official duty.”

Read | Timeline of events in office of Chief Justice of India falling under RTI Act case

In his separate judgment, which agreed with the rest, Justice Chandrachud wrote, “It cannot be countenanced that public gaze or subsequent disclosure will detract an individual from discharging their duty in an effective manner true to the dignity and ethic associated with their office...when answering questions of disclosure in regards to the appointment process (the) principal consideration will always be that of public interest.

“Any balancing must be carried out in the context of our commitment to transparency and accountability of our institutions.”

Justice Chandrachud was categorical that “judicial independence does not mean insulation of judges from the rule of law”, and that “transparency and right to information are crucially linked to rule of law itself”.

He sought to stress that “judicial independence is not a carte blanche to arbitrary behaviour”, and that “independence of the judiciary was not envisaged to mean its insulation from checks and balances that are inherent in exercise of constitution power”.

The judge expressed the view that “judicial power, conferred in public interest as a necessary element in administration of justice, cannot be used to achieve extraneous ends” and that judges are not above the law.

On the need for accountability, Justice Chandrachud wrote, “Adjudicators in robes are human and may be predisposed to the failings that are inherently human. But the law demands that they must aspire to a standard of behaviour that does not condone those failings of a human persona in discharge of judicial duties. To equate the actions of an individual which have no nexus with the discharge of official duties as a judge with the institution may have dangerous portents. The shield of the institution cannot be entitled to protect those actions from scrutiny”.

He wrote, “The contention that merely because a judge cannot be elected out of office the conduct of judges and their general administration is not a matter of great public interest cannot be countenanced...”