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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : A public judge with an uncertain legacy

 

Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

 

  • Prelims: Supreme Court, Judges of SC, appointment of CJI and other judges etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Structure, organization and functioning of judiciary, role of CJI etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Justice N V Ramana was the 48th Chief Justice of India (CJI) and only the second judge from Andhra Pradesh to occupy this position after Justice K. Subba Rao in 1966-67.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Appointment of new CJI:

 

 

Important orders during his tenure:

  • Bail under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)
  • Fixing gaps in dowry death law
  • Medical assistance to Siddique Kappan
  • Powerful speeches on criticism, dissent in a democracy.
  • The need to guard against tyranny.
  • Keeping the sedition law in abeyance and preventing its further use until its constitutional validity was determined.
  • Striking down provisions of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act.
  • Bringing the office of the CJI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act

 

Disappointments over Constitutional cases:

  • Cases on electoral bonds
  • The constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act
  • Dilution of Article 370
  • Hijab ban in schools
  • Reservations for Economically Weaker Sections
  • Aadhaar amendments
  • Hearings on Pegasus

 

Fault Lines:

  • Appointment: Justice Ramana himself was appointed as a judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2000 when he was the Additional Advocate General to the Andhra Pradesh government.
  • Investigation of land purchased: Investigation into the purchase of land at very low prices by his daughters in the Amaravati capital region of divided Andhra Pradesh.
  • Gagging order on media: The gag orders on the media to prevent reporting on the case by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in September 2020 were wholly inappropriate.

 

Constitutional bench:

  • Justice U U Lalit(49th Chief Justice of India) assured there will be at least one Constitution Bench functioning throughout the year in the Supreme Court.
    • Another reform that Justice Lalit has talked about is that court proceedings would start at 9 am instead of the usual 10.30 am.
  • Urgent matters: A clear-cut mechanism would be in place to allow lawyers to mention urgent matters, which includes bail petitions, et, before the respective Benches for early listing.
  • Pendency of cases: The Supreme Court’s pendency has crossed over 71,000 from a little over 55,000 in 2017. This is despite the fact that the sanctioned judicial strength of the court was increased to 34 judges in August 2019.

 

Full court meeting:

  • Full-court meetings are called by the Chief Justice of India to discuss issues of importance to the judiciary.
  • The senior designations of practicing advocates in the Supreme Court and high courts are also decided during the full court meetings.
  • Full court meeting is convened at the discretion of the Chief Justice of India, it does not follow any particular calendar.
  • Legal problem: Full court meetings are an ideal occasion to arrive at common solutions to deal with problems that beset the country’s legal system and to make any amends, if necessary, in the administrative practices of the court.

 

Judgements Chief Justice U U Lalit has been part:

  • Reforming the sentencing procedure on death penalty.
  • In 2017, misuse of special laws that prohibit atrocities against SC/STs
  • Unlawful demands for dowry.

 

Constitution bench:

●    It is the name given to the benches of the Supreme Court of India which consist of at least five judges of the court which sit to decide any case:

○      Involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution of India

○      For the purpose of hearing any reference” made by the President of India under Article 143.

●    This provision has been mandated by Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India.

●    The Chief Justice of India has the power to constitute a Constitution Bench and refer cases to it.

 

Way Forward

  • Redefine the relationship between the CJI, the Supreme Court and the people of this country: The unprecedented intensity and extent of the reportage involving Justice Ramana’s public engagements, including Op-Ed page contributions in national newspapers, speaks to an effort to redefine the relationship between the CJI, the Supreme Court and the people of this country.
  • Fixed tenure for CJI: New CJI case brings to the fore the debate on having a fixed tenure for Chief Justices of India.
    • This would help them plan and put into action reforms
  • One Constitutional bench: Setting up at least one Constitution bench that would sit through the year to ensure smoother methods for listing cases and allowing lawyers to effectively ‘mention’ their cases for listing is a step in forward direction.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

  1. Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgment on ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014’ with reference to appointment of judges of higher judiciary in India.(UPSC 2017)

(200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)

  1. The tenure of the 48th Chief Justice of India did not live up to the promise and the hope it held out at the beginning. Critically analyze.

(200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)