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Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley yesterday said that a process of mass intimidation of the judiciary has begun from various sections of the society, affecting the honour of the institution.
Crediting the media for starting this “trend”, Arun Jaitley said that publications reproduce communications and exchanges that take place inside courtrooms and report on letters written by judges to one another or to the Chief Justice.
“A process of mass intimidation of Indian Judiciary has begun and it’s not begun from the Executive. If you look at Social Media, look at the articles published in newspapers… look at last two years, the same familiar by-line in a newspaper will reproduce to you a conversation that took place in a full Court, written in Collegium (resolution), a letter written from one Judge to Chief Justice or another Judge. Therefore, this kind of trend in the system has emerged.”
While speaking at a panel discussion on the launch of Arghya Sengupta’s book ‘Independence and Accountability of the Indian Higher Judiciary’, Jaitley added that the current discourse has reached a stage where people like to make allegations, and that judges, unlike politicians, are helpless when it comes to refuting these allegations.
“I think we are reaching a stage where people love making allegations. At least politicians have the ability to refute them and ability to sue them in court so that truth can be established. A judge is completely handicapped and a punctured reputation cannot be retrieved.”
This comment by Jaitley comes at a time when the Chief Justice of India is facing allegations of sexual harassment from a former Supreme Court staffer. While the three-judge in-house panel constituted to look into the allegations has exonerated CJI Gogoi, the reaction to this exoneration has been divided. Various groups of people have condemned the absence of due process in the exercise.
Jaitley made his stance known when he said he is a “relative conservative” when it comes to matters of impeachment of judges and allegations levelled against them. He said that he “would completely be on the side of a judge unless of course facts are clearly against him”. This statement, however, was not made in reference to any specific incident.
The Union Minister made a case for a credible mechanism to address allegations made against judges. He suggested a mechanism that maintains judicial primacy and also involves participation from other sections of the society. He said,
“When you deal with allegations against judges…it is a very popular thing to throw mud, because it looks like an attractive thing to do. There is a presumption in demolishing personalities in our system. But there has to be a system you should trust.”