Recusal a matter of Judge’s conscience, need not give reasons: Chief Justice designate, Justice SA Bobde

Recusal a matter of Judge’s conscience, need not give reasons: Chief Justice designate, Justice SA Bobde

Bar & Bench

A judge need not give his reasons for recusing himself from hearing a case, Justice SA Bobde opined in an interview conducted on Wednesday. Speaking to NDTV, the Chief Justice designate said,

I do not believe that a judge should disclose reasons for recusing. You see, recusal is a matter of a judge’s conscience … And many times, the judge is not sure whether he should hear it [a case]. Many times, the judge is not sure what makes him recuse.

Why should a judge give reasons? And that has never been the tradition. As I understand, throughout the history of the judiciary, a judge has never been asked to disclose why he is not hearing a case.”

Read – To recuse or not to recuse?

Justice Bobde also went on to make pertinent comments on other recent topics of discussion including Collegium transparency, the dynamic between the government and the judiciary and the Ayodhya case.

Sufficient transparency in the Collegium System

Responding to the question concerning whether more transparency should be introduced when it comes to Collegium recommendations, Justice Bobde said,

I think there is sufficient transparency. Most of the time, when some people demand more transparency, they want to know the cause of why somebody was not selected.

They are not so much interested in why somebody was selected. They are interested in why somebody was not selected. And that normally involves very negative things about a candidate. I don’t see why a candidate should subject himself to such negative exposure only because he is considered for a judgeship or considered for elevation to the Supreme Court.

It is not a question of secrecy, it is a question of privacy. “

On a related note, Justice Bobde was also asked if reasons should be disclosed when a judge is being transferred. In response, Justice Bobde addressed the notion that judges are transferred for disciplinary reasons, remarking,

There is always a paradox here. When the Collegium transfers a judge from one place to another, that judge must go there with a good reputation, for him to be effective. Why should the collegium say negative things about the judge while transferring? And many times, there are not any negative things.”

On the controversy following the proposed transfer of former Madras High Court Chief Justice VK Tahilramani, and her subsequent resignation, Justice Bode said,

This is not the first time this happened, it has happened in the past also. But it is unfortunate.

[There] is one thing, I want to make very clear, there may be larger and smaller high courts. Because there are larger and smaller states. But there are no bigger and smaller chief justices. All chief justices are equal – equal in status, equal in powers, equal in remuneration – everything.”

Government and Judiciary must work together

The issue of whether the government has been delaying judicial appointments was also raised. Disagreeing with the perception that the judicial appointments are being delayed by the executive, Justice Bobde informed,

I don’t think it is getting delayed, in fact, the Collegium recommendations are being processed much faster than I remember. There are some [delays] that have happened because we [Collegium] made some last-minute changes – you have to go through the process of asking for consent. Normally, they [Government] don’t delay it.”

The judge also emphasized that it is important that the judiciary and the government work together, as required by the Constitution of India.

It’s a relationship that thrives on mutual respect.

The government has a lot of power – in the sense that the courts do not have any financial power … They [courts] can’t give grants to themselves. The system requires the government to do that. [In matters concerning the] staff – all orders are made in the name of the executive; the President of India appoints judges.

The Constitution requires the two wings to function together.”

On important Supreme Court cases

The judge also agreed during the course of the interview that it has been easier to dispose of cases since the Supreme Court is presently at its full working strength.

“… there are so many matters which require a decision by five judges, which the Chief Justice could not spare five judges to sit and decide the matter because the other work would get affected. Now you can.”

On being queried on the important cases being heard, with specific reference to the marathon hearing that was conducted for the Ayodhya dispute, Justice Bobde also had occasion to remark that,

Ayodhya is definitely important. It is one of the most important cases in the world today.”

However, the judge declined to comment when asked about the UN’s recent concerns regarding the slow response of the Supreme Court when it came to hearing Habeas Corpus Petitions, particularly with respect to Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. When asked about the same, the judge responded by saying,

I would not comment on that.”

On priorities as a Judge

My priorities are straightforward“, Justice Bobde remarked. “The goal of any judicial system is justice. And that is one thing that cannot be sacrificed. All other priorities are after this. There are certain aspects which need attention like caseload management, staffing of courts – that includes vacancies -… then, use of technological means like artificial intelligence…”

The Chief Justice designate went on to highlight why legal education is also an important priority for the legal system. On this aspect, he said,

There is a very important long term priority, and that is legal education. One believes that the only lasting solution or the only sure cause of excellence for producing good lawyers and good judges is good legal education. It is a long term measure which I think often gets neglected because you never see the results [immediately] ….

A specific query was also raised with regard to how artificial intelligence can be used in the court system. Justice Bobde pointed out,

There are many uses of artificial intelligence. One is creating a legal research assistant. The AI answers questions pertaining to the particular case. Then it takes away the drudgery of repetitive tasks and leaves the judge free to apply his mind to the growth of the law and development of the law 

We [Supreme Court] have a committee and that committee has some experts who are in the process of seeing what artificial intelligence to use…”

Death Penalty

Justice Bobde also opined that since the death penalty is in the statute books, judges have a duty to apply the law when it comes to this issue.

Judges take the oath to uphold the law. The law provides for a death penalty today and its constitutionality has been upheld…“, he observed.

Advice to young lawyers

On a parting note, the judge had this to say when asked about what advice he would give to young lawyers.

Be fearless. Be learned. Not reckless.”

The President of India recently signed the warrant appointing Justice SA Bobde as the next Chief Justice of India, succeeding CJI Ranjan Gogoi who will be retiring on November 17.

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