The Recent Carnival of Crime

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan writes on a controversial Judge
Gopal Sankaranarayanan
Gopal Sankaranarayanan

The Recent Carnival of Crime[1]

[“For he cometh in with vanity and departeth in darkness and his name shall be covered with darkness”- The Bible- Ecclesiastes 6:4 ]

It has been ten days since the retirement of one who could only be described as the most controversial judge in independent India’s history. Many columns have been devoted by distinguished authors lamenting the course of his tenure and how bias, politics and vindictiveness formed its underpinnings. I would trust that no other judicial officer would emulate the sorry claim of listening to one’s conscience while dealing with every case. Such a pompous assertion would scarcely offer alibi to one who had taken his oath on the Constitution – to uphold it and the laws, and to thus ensure that justice would not only be done, but also be seen to be done.

These principles are not idle ones, for it is the faith that the people have in the judiciary that gives the institution its foundation. If the public were to see only one titular author repeatedly in every case that impacts the policies of the governing dispensation where the Government succeeds; in every one of the 7 cases of a growing corporate behemoth which remarkably leads to the latter’s triumph; in the sudden and inexplicable backtracking on timelines to pay telecom spectrum dues (just after issuing contempt notices to Government servants when they permitted the same); in the sudden listing of not one but both contempt petitions where the accused is a long-term outspoken critic of that very judge and in then convicting him; and several other such instances, then the faith so reposed is being eroded by one individual: that singular judge out of 34 who has taken a wrecking ball to the institution.

And yet, there is hope.

I am afraid that many of the accounts of the actions of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named have cast a pall of gloom over the Court, and that would be unfair to all the other stellar judges who discharge their duties on a daily basis in accordance with their oaths, (and not the vagaries of the conscience).

In the Supreme Court today, we have thirty judges, and thousands more across the country in High Courts and Subordinate Courts and Tribunals. All of them are quietly hearing dozens of cases, patiently writing judgements and laying down the law of the land. They all reflect the tempered approach that had been the advice of former Justice R.V.Raveendran in two pieces he had published almost a decade ago.[2] It would be difficult to imagine that they have been immune to the storms that have raged around the Empress of Tilak Marg these last few years – in fact, quite a few of them have been at the receiving end themselves of quiet intemperate remarks made by their erstwhile colleague, both in the judges’ corridors and in open court. I have no doubt that each of them must be feeling worn by each new controversy that emerged at a place that is much more than an office – it is a part of their very souls, and they feel the heavy burden with every testy advocate, every loaded riposte and every critical column. And in this, they are not alone.

Supreme Court Corridor
Supreme Court Corridor

As advocates, we too feel the pain. The art of legal pugilism is hard as it is, without the added pressure of an unpleasant adjudicator or an over-confident governmental adversary. The professional approach is not always so easy to embrace for us, particularly when issues of basic human rights and civil liberties are at stake. The endeavour to seek bail for a scoundrel ought not be scoffed at, nor the lack of accountability in those who govern us invite imputations of malice, for this is the precise task of justice. To weigh, to ascertain, to consider, to adjudicate. When the institution that we serve is blighted, either from the outside, or as has been demonstrated, from the inside, it falls on all of us to come together and heal the breach. It is not enough at this time to maintain our silence, but it is our solemn obligation to ensure that the three pillars of justice – the judges, the lawyers and the media – work as a team to rebuff those who seek to exploit any weakness.

History has borne witness to how politicians have attempted to undermine the judiciary – trumped up cases suddenly emerge prior to a judge’s anointment as Chief Justice, certain State Governments strangely unearth questionable transactions that “have to be investigated”, relatives who have for fifteen years remained under the radar are painted as rotten eggs overnight, and of course, the ubiquitous “IB Report” – unwholesome and without legal sanctity – gets pressed into service. I have no doubt that this will continue to be the case, but everywhere in the world where such devices have been adopted, the unity of a vocal Bar has given strength to the Bench to rebuff such misadventures.

relatives who have for fifteen years remained under the radar are painted as rotten eggs overnight, and of course, the ubiquitous “IB Report” – unwholesome and without legal sanctity

The events of the last few years only serve to remind us that it is not only the judges who have an oath to uphold – each of us are to abide by the very promise to the Constitution and to the values it embodies. If the judges are our standard bearers, we are their heralds – and right now, the clarion call is clear: trifle with justice at your peril.

The author is a Senior Advocate, practicing before the Supreme Court of India.

[1] This is inspired by the famous short story by that effervescent wit, Mark Twain, who in the June 1876 issue of The Atlantic, must have been pleased to see published his work – “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut”. It may be a passing coincidence that the protagonist of the piece had also an unusual conscience. Click here for the full work.

[2] “Rendering Judgments – Some Basics” (2009) 10 SCC J-1 and “How to be a good judge – Advice to new Judges” (2012) 9 SCC J-5

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