Justice P. Sathasivam, who takes over as the next Chief Justice of India on July 19, told The Hindu on June 28 that a few members of the judiciary have dishonoured their oath of office but that the solution lies in the hands of litigants.
Sir, you are going to take over as the Chief Justice of India shortly. From humble beginnings you have risen to the top post in the judiciary. You will be the first Judge from Tamil Nadu to adorn this highest office after Justice Patanjali Sastri, who represented the entire Madras Presidency. Are you satisfied with your overall performance?
I am very satisfied and in fact proud [of reaching] this position. [I am] from a farmer’s family. As a practising lawyer, I was mediocre but I worked hard as a Law Officer of the State government and on the private side. After becoming a Judge, I maintained a low profile in other activities and concentrated only on judicial work. I am happy that I am the first person from Tamil Nadu in this high office. Though my period is short, I hope that I will fulfil the expectations of our countrymen and the people of Tamil Nadu, in particular.
What will your priorities be?
[With] more awareness among our citizens, various fresh legislation like Domestic Violence Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Juvenile Justice Act, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Section 138 cases (under the Negotiable Instruments Act), more cases are being filed and more litigations are bound to come before Courts.
We can bring down the arrears by creation of separate courts for offences against women and children; special Magistrate Courts exclusively for Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act cases — the courts have been created, the numbers to be increased — and creation of Evening Courts and Holiday Courts for certain types of cases particularly for matrimonial matters; five or 10-year-old cases [will] be identified and entrusted to one court exclusively; fix[ed] time frame for completion of pleadings, argument by counsel: filling up all posts of Judicial Officers and supporting staff then and there and better utilisation of Alternate Dispute Resolution methods. At the subordinate court level, at the High Court and Supreme Court levels, filling up of vacancies are to be done in a time bound manner.
You have a short tenure of nine months. Are you confident that you can do something concrete for the judiciary?
All Judicial Officers from junior division to the level of Supreme Court must adhere to punctuality. All must utilise the full court timings for disposal of cases.
In the Supreme Court, more referred matters are pending. After identifying those matters, appropriate Benches will be constituted. By this, more cases from the Supreme Court and High Court would be cleared. Selection of judges must be on merit. At the same time, it must be ensured that all sections of people (OBC, SC, ST and minority communities) are duly represented if they satisfy the required norms.
There is much criticism about the procedure for appointment of judges. There is no transparency in the collegium system. The Union Law & Justice Minister, Kapil Sibal, recently said this procedure should be changed to give more say to the Executive. Do you subscribe to this view? Will the setting up of a National Judicial Commission solve the problem?
According to me, the present collegium system works well. The current Judicial Appointment mechanism, [being followed] since 1993, is based on two Constitutional rulings of the Supreme Court, viz. 1993 and 1998.
The appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts is made by the President and is, therefore, ultimately an executive act. The judiciary’s role is limited to making recommendations. The power to make recommendations is not absolute. It is always open to the Government to seek reconsideration of the recommendation made by the Collegium, for strong reasons or adverse material in their possession. In fact, in the recent past, the Government has exercised its power to keep a check and prevent the appointment of persons considered to be unsuitable.
In view of [this], it cannot be claimed that the government (State and Central) has no role in the appointment of judges and the setting up of a National Judicial Commission will not solve the problem. On the other hand, if the time schedule is strictly followed by all the authorities, according to me, the present system will solve the problem.
Is there any move to appoint a senior lawyer as Supreme Court Judge. Till now only three lawyers have been elevated to the Supreme Court bench.
We may consider appointing one from the Bar to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Bar Association President M.N. Krishnamani has requested that some senior lawyers may be considered for appointment as High Court Judges. We may consider this request also.
Do you feel there is a need for creating Supreme Court Benches in four regions and a Constitutional Court in the capital?
This issue came up before the Full Court on seven occasions. It was also discussed twice in the All India Chief Justices Conference. On all these occasions, the Full Court of the Supreme Court and Chief Justices Conference did not favour the creation of regional Benches. Further, because of the development of Information Technology, computers, e-filing, online facilities, there is no difficulty in reaching the Supreme Court through these methods. Even among the regions, there may not be any acceptable place/State capital for location of the regional Benches.
Sir, Honour killings are taking place in many parts of the country. Do you feel that a separate law is necessary to deal with such crimes?
The spate of honour killings is a glaring illustration of culture crimes, which has outraged the country over many decades. The root cause of the crime is the thriving caste system in India. It is unfortunate that women are most frequently the victims in this feudal practice. It is time to stamp out this barbaric, uncivilized behaviour, which is a disgrace on our nation.
A special legislation in this regard will certainly be a welcome effort, as it will help in generating additional protection to these victims. I say this because; though the prevailing penal law punishes the act of homicide it does not directly punishes the members gathering for such purpose.
During your tenure did you ever feel that corruption is a major issue in the judiciary? If so, do you have any solution and how would you deal with it?
I should fairly admit that the judiciary is not untouched by corruption. When we take the oath as judge, we swear to be fair and impartial in all our judicial functions. However, on some occasions in the past, few judges have wilfully dishonoured the oath by adopting to corrupt practices. The solution for eliminating this disorder lies in the hands of the litigants. The litigants must take the responsibility for bringing into light such occurrence by making a grievance petition before the Chief Justice of respective High Courts and also to the Chief Justice of India. If a prima facie case is made out through the preliminary enquiry, then the judge should not feel hesitant to adopt the prescribed procedure under the mandate of Constitution.
There is a provision in the Judicial Accountability Bill to prevent judges from making oral observations and the former Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, had expressed certain reservations about it. Do you think the Executive is trying to curb the independence of the judiciary by incorporating such a provision?
Full details of the proposed Judicial Accountability Bill are not known. However, I strongly oppose the Bill. There cannot be any control in the administration of justice. In other words, the executive cannot curb the independence of judiciary by bringing any provision to interfere with court proceedings. No doubt, no court is expected to make unnecessary comments de hors to the issue before it.
Your views on what is described as “judicial activism” or “overreach”?
There are checks and balances and broad separation of powers under the Constitution. Each organ of the State, i.e. the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, must have respect for the others and not encroach into each other’s domain.
However, the doctrine of separation of powers cannot curtail the power of judicial review conferred on the constitutional Courts especially in situations where the fundamental rights are sought to be abrogated or abridged under the garb of these doctrines. Violation of Fundamental Rights cannot be immunised from judicial scrutiny under Article 226 or under Article 32 of the Constitution on the touchstone of doctrine of separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary.