Judicial Reforms

[op-ed snap] The mandates of natural justice

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Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Constitution Day, Natural justice, CBI

Mains level: Principles of natural justice

Refer to this essay topic asked in 2017 Mains: “We may brave human laws but can not resist natural laws”


Constitution Day: 26 November

  1. On November 26, 68 years ago, the chairperson of the Constitution drafting committee, B.R. Ambedkar, put to vote the following motion at the Constituent Assembly: “That the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed.”
  2. In 1969, the Supreme Court Bar Association declared November 26 as Law Day
  3. The government has now designated it as Constitution Day

Purpose of designating special day

  1. To emphasise the role and importance of law in the life of our Republic
  2. To review the state of law and administration of justice
  3. To suggest ways and means of improving our laws and our legal and judicial system
  4. To strengthen the principle of the independence of the judiciary
  5. To maintain, reinforce and augment public confidence in our legal and judicial system

Questions over conduct of judiciary

  1. The court’s collective actions, in undermining every notion of good ethical conduct, has struck a potentially irredeemable blow at the principles highlighted
  2. A first information report was regisitered in which a retired Orissa High Court judge, I.M. Quddusi, was implicated for allegedly taking bribes to secure favourable orders from the Supreme Court
  3. Given that any involvement of the Central Bureau of Investigation could impinge the autonomy of the judiciary, the petitions filed for investigation suggested that the court might consider appointing a special investigation team to conduct an inquiry into the FIR

What SC/CJI did?

  1. With a view to avoiding any intervention by the CJI, this case was separately mentioned before a bench presided by the court’s second most senior judge, Justice J. Chelameswar
  2. He ordered that the petition be heard by a bench comprising the five most senior judges of the court
  3. Ultimately, the CJI set aside Justice Chelameswar’s order, by constituting a five-judge bench of his own, over which he himself presided
  4. He also thereby reaffirmed his power and authority to make administrative choices

Questions that arise?

  1. Under what circumstances does a litigant’s claim in court translate into a claim that interests a judge?
  2. Does the CJI ever have a duty to recuse himself as the “master of the roster”?

What does precedent say?

  1. In ordinary circumstances, this discretion would be governed by the general principle expressed by Lord Chief Justice Hewart of the King’s Bench nearly 100 years ago: that “justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

Examples where CJI recused himself from hearing

  1. In two cases — N.B. Jeejeebhoy v. Assistant Collector and Vajravelu Mudaliar v. Special Deputy Collector, Chief Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar had recused himself as its outcome would have affected a cooperative housing society of which he was a member
  2. He had thus “affirmed in India the principle, well settled in England, that the requirements of natural justice apply to the most exalted judicial officer as they do the humblest.”

Violating natural justice by placing CJI above all procedures

  1. If we place the Chief Justice’s position as an administrative head above ordinary mandates of natural justice, we would be violating the basic constitutional morality that holds together the entire structure of our Constitution
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