Don’t summon officials unnecessarily, says Supreme Court

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

The Supreme Court said on Friday that judges should not behave like “emperors” and summon government officials “at the drop of a hat”.

The Supreme Court said there would be a “reaction” if judges cross the line of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive to call officers to court “unnecessarily”. The apex court prescribed modesty and humility.

“A practice has developed in certain High Courts to call officers at the drop of a hat and to exert direct or indirect pressure. The line of separation of powers between judiciary and executive is sought to be crossed by summoning the officers and in a way pressurising them to pass an order as per the whims and fancies of the court,” a Bench of Justices S.K. Kaul and Hemant Gupta observed in a judgment pronounced on Friday.

Third limb

Justice Gupta, who authored the judgment, said officials were also performing their duties as the third limb of governance.

“The actions or decisions by the officers are not to benefit them, but as a custodian of public funds and in the interest of administration some decisions are bound to be taken. It is always open to the High Court to set aside the decision which does not meet the test of judicial review, but summoning of officers frequently is not appreciable at all. The same is liable to be condemned in the strongest words,” the court observed.

Judges must know their limits. The dignity and majesty of the court was not enhanced when an officer was called to court. Respect to the court had to be commanded and not demanded and the same was not enhanced by calling public officers, Justice Gupta noted.

At times, officials had to travel great distances and wait for hours in court. His official work was delayed, creating an extra burden on the officer

“Power of the pen”

“Summoning of the officer is against the public interest... Courts have the power of the pen which is more effective than the presence of an officer in Court. If any particular issue arises for consideration before the Court, and the advocate representing the State is not able to answer, it is advised to write such doubt in the order and give time to the State or its officers to respond,” Justice Gupta observed in the verdict.

The observations were part of the judgment in an appeal against an Allahabad High Court decision. The High Court had summoned the Secretary, Medical Health.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 6:36:02 AM |

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