Interview | Justice S.C. Dharmadhikari Mumbai

‘Judges can’t go by popular sentiment’

Justice Satyaranjan C Dharmadhikari.

Justice Satyaranjan C Dharmadhikari.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Outgoing High Court judge talks about the demands of the job and the role of the judiciary

“There is no breaking news in a person demitting office,” said Justice Satyaranjan C. Dharmadhikari who recently demitted office as a Bombay High Court judge, adding, “It should be smooth, and should quietly pass off.” The judge, in an interview with The Hindu, explained his reasons for retiring, talked about the challenges of being a judge, the criticality of collegium and National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), and the need to improve the criminal justice system.

What are your reasons for retiring and your views on a judge being elevated?

The reason for me retiring was that I was going to be transferred to another State as a Chief Justice with less than two years of my tenure left. When you go to a different State there are different local laws, the problems arising out of local issues are different which you have to grapple with. And then one needs to understand the local administration where the language, culture and work ethics are different. For a person to adjust to the situation and settle down, it takes about six to eight months. Then soon would be my date of retirement. I was happy to go to any State, that was never the issue. The elevation of a judge is not a physical thing. It is a state of mind and body. The state of mind is very important. You have to be compassionate and concerned, but at the same time you cannot show that in your output. What a judge portrays are his principles.

What are the challenges of being a judge?

The challenges of a High Court judge are many. A judge has no assistance. Every day, you have to read the files, make your small notes so that you can raise pointed queries in court to save time. One has to hear several cases and decide if they are worth admitting or not, and the call for that has to be taken in about five to 10 minutes. It demands that you have in-depth knowledge, and cannot be peripheral or superficial. Then again, one cannot be obsessed about disposal of cases [either]. People look up to you, the whole State looks up to you. People might think that the work pressure is not enormous, but it is. In Bombay, there is also sizeable commercial ligation and arbitration where the stakes are too high and the matters have to be decided in a time-bound manner.

What is your take on the collegium vis-a-vis the NJAC Act?

The collegium system has been functioning for the past 27 years. Institutional independence is important. There are inadequacies, but it’s preferable than keeping all higher judicial appointments in the hands of the executive. Even as far as the postings and transfers are concerned, the functioning is best left to the members of the institution. We are not perfect, as many defects and deficiencies are pointed out, but we can work towards eliminating them.

You have closely seen our criminal justice system. What can be done to reform it?

The journey is from the suspect to accused and then from accused to a convict. This is where fair investigation and probe by the police and the investigating agencies come in. The evidence gathered has to be credible and stand the test of cross-examination in a trial.

You have been perceived as a strict judge who came down heavily on government officials for their apathy and inaction.

I should not be misunderstood. By issuing directions from time to time we do not take over governance. As it is always said, it is only the executive’s inaction which triggers directions from the courts. Once we ignore the constitutional framework, then the burden on the judiciary usually increases. The expectation of the people is then from the courts. I have seen noticeable anger, anguish, pain and frustration of the man on the street when dealing with criminal delivery justice system; especially in cases of rape and murder, he turns to the courts for justice.

In cases which have political implications, how does a judge or Bench hearing the case ensure that they remain insulated to the surroundings? The question is specific, considering the reach of the media, which has now percolated to people’s lives through various mediums, including mobile phones.

If you are fearless, impartial and independent — which means someone who is balanced, restrained, does not go overboard, is not looking for publicity, does not want himself to be seen in the electronic or social media — then you know you are doing your job. Judges are trained to function like this. Judges can’t go by popular sentiment and [resort to] knee-jerk reactions. The matter has to be decided on real facts and evidence. If I pull someone up, it is part of my job to ensure that he performs his functions in time.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 3:45:09 PM |

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