A system is as good as the leader it produces

Last week, the Supreme Court gave a judgement saying that National Judicial Appointments Committee may compromise its independence. Opinion was split for and against the judgement.

Without good judges, our democracy could be as cruel as the worst dictatorship. All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The organ, which is entrusted to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens of the nation, is the highest court of the country- the Supreme Court. The quality of judges will ultimately determine the quality of decisions of the judiciary.

Long before today’s youth was born, the judges of the Supreme Court were tested in what is called the Additional District Manager of Jabalpur vs. Shivakant Shukla case or the Habeas Corpus case.

The main question of the case was whether, under Presidential Orders, the High Court could entertain a writ of Habeas Corpus filed by a person challenging the ground for his detention. The bench consisted of Chief Justice of India A.N. Ray, Justice H.R. Khanna, Justice M.H. Beg, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud and Justice P.N. Bhagwati. They were considered the most respectable and wise judges of the Supreme Court at that time.

The Attorney General of India, Niren De began his arguments in his powerful voice. No questions were asked until Justice Khanna asked, ‘Life is also mentioned in Article 21. Would Government arguments extend to it also?’ Niren De didn’t seem to be hassled by this rather uncomfortable question and answered swiftly, saying, ‘‘Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless’.

The case was argued for over two months. The Supreme Court decided that the citizens had no locus to go to a court of law against arrest/ detention of an individual by the state.

The judgment ruled in favor of the Government with a four to one majority. Only Justice Khanna had the courage to take the right decision in favor of human nature and liberty.

He ended his judgment with the quote: ‘”As observed by Chief Justice Hughes, Judges are not there simply to decide cases, but to decide them as they think they should be decided…”

All four judges with the exception of Justice Khanna went on to become Chief Justices of India. In 2011, Justice Bhagwati expressed regret by saying: “I was wrong. The majority judgment was not the correct judgment. If it were open to me to come to a fresh decision in that case, I would agree with what Justice Khanna did. I am sorry. I don’t know why I yielded to my colleagues. Initially, I was not in favor of the majority view. But ultimately, I don’t know why, I was persuaded to agree with them. I was a novice at that time, a young judge…I was handling this type of litigation for the first time. But it was an act of weakness on my part.”

The underlying significance of the case was the importance of quality judges, who can stand up in difficult situations for citizens of India.

The question that we need to ask is what system should India have that will give us more judges like Justice Khanna, through a committee of judges or through a national judicial appointment commission?

(Tanya Gupta is a student of the Shriram School Aravali and is a NewsMobile Mobile Journalist)

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