Senior advocate Fali S. Nariman’s God Save the Hon’ble Supreme Court is a reminder that the institution of the Supreme Court of India is cast in stone, permanent. The judges, men and women, who occupy the institution are but birds of passage. They come and they go. However, their frailties, ego, collegiality do shape public opinion about the Supreme Court.
The book comes in the aftermath of what is considered a controversial year in the Supreme Court. The January 12 press conference — one of its kind in the history of the court — impacted the image of the institution. Four senior most judges, one of whom has been appointed the 46th Chief Justice of India, went public with their grievances against sitting Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra.
The book chronicles the slow build-up of the tension which spilled outside the quiet inner halls of the Supreme Court to the lawns of Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s official residence.
Nariman holds both Chief Justice Misra and Justice Chelameswar, the number two judge, accountable. The Chief Justice, for his silence in the face of a letter, written by the four of his Collegium colleagues, seeking an explanation about the assignment of specific cases to certain judges in the Supreme Court; Justice Chelameswar for ordering the setting up of a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear the medical college corruption case.
Nariman faintly disagrees with the actions of the four judges to hold the press meet.
He writes that when a Chief Justice “digs-in-his-heels” and fixes the roster or determines the composition of Benches, the others have no option but “lump it” and wait for his departure. Quarrels among judges and ill-feeling between members of the court are not infrequent, writes Nariman. He points to how Justice P.N. Bhagwati, during the hearing of the First Judges case in the 1980s, made the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, file an affidavit in the Supreme Court to explain the appointment and transfer of a particular high court judge.
Justice Bhagwati went on to note in his judgment that the affidavit was “delightfully vague”.
Nariman quotes Prof. Granville Austin that Justice Bhagwati did not quite like the fact that Justice Chandrachud preceded him as Chief Justice of India.
Nariman provides a valuable lesson for future chief justices, about the dangers of the lack of the spirit of collegiality in one of the world’s most powerful courts.
The book speaks through Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti’s observations in the judgment in Tirupati Balaji Developers Pvt Ltd versus State of Bihar. Justice Lahoti says “when there is little or no judicial collegiality, there is less incentive for judges to exercise self-restraint....”
God Save The Hon’ble Supreme Court ; Fali S. Nariman, Hay House/ PRH, ₹599.