If progeny of judges of most superior court call on judicial officers at their residence, then there is serious problem to independence of judiciary, says HC judge

If the progeny of the judges of the most superior court in the country call on the Judicial Officers (JOs) at their residence with eager litigants in tow with an attempt to pass slips and thereafter drop the name of their forbear with hints of protection, then there is a serious problem to the independence of the judiciary, said Justice P. Krishna Bhat, a judge of the High Court of Karnataka, on Thursday.

“Discussions about the ‘independence of the judiciary’ and threat to the same abounds the air now. To my mind, threat to the ‘independence of the judiciary’ is a myth,” he said.

“Independence of judiciary is realised by an individual judge remaining independent. How is that attained? It is only by the judge internalising certain values and virtues,” he said.

Mr. Justice Bhat, who retires from the service on August 7, was addressing the companion judges and advocates during the customary farewell given to him on behalf of the High Court and the Karnataka State Bar Council.

Mr. Justice Bhat was speaking from his experience of 22 years spent as a district judge since 1998 during which he had also served in three prominent posts — as Registrar (Vigilance), Registrar (Judicial), and Registrar-General of the High Court — before he was elevated as a judge of the High Court in 2020.

He was of the view that “judge acting judiciously has so many protections under law... There is a vague and lingering view that there is less threat to the independence of the judiciary — written or oral from without than within; in the manner petitions, complaints, calculated branding is handled internally.”

Another worrisome aspect, Mr. Justice Bhat said, “Is the not infrequently heard complaint that at crucial stages in their career like period of probation, promotion, etc. Judicial Officers pass certain orders because they were ‘told’ so.”

Such situations have caused incalculable damage to the credibility of the functionary in particular and the institution at large. It goes without saying that a debate is required and safeguards should be crafted for preventing abuse of the process in this regard.

If such an allegation is established or such a perception prevails, judge is not independent and credibility is permanently dented, he said while posing a question, “What then is the remedy?”

Mr. Justice Bhat said: “At the first blush, it may appear absurd and drastic. Judges, Judicial Officers and such other high functionaries like Lokayukta/Upa Lokayukta should offer themselves for narco-analysis test with the simultaneous liability for similar test on persons named by the functionary concerned, if the functionary feels the complaint is false and motivated.”

“Similarly, if judges are found frolicking in destination holiday centres in a questionable company, the question is bound to arise as to his independence as a judge,” Mr. Justice Bhat said.

‘Excesses in the name of protocol, phone calls and slips passed’

Judicial officers will be independent so long as they avoid doing “excesses in the name of protocol, and undertake administration in a fearless and independent manner regardless of possible ‘phone calls’ and ‘slips passed’ and inevitable possible reprisals,” said Mr. Justice Bhat.

Mr. Justice Bhat also pointed out that a judge, who subsequently became the Chief Justice of a High Court, had written a letter to the Chief Justice for action against a district judge for not receiving him at the airport.

“Excesses in protocols seen by me include abject obsequiousness and gifting costly articles,” he said.

“It came to my knowledge that one Principal District Judge procured a costly sari to present to the spouse of a dignitary from New Delhi who was on a private visit with instructions not to wait on him, and to the mirth of all those present, the dignitary couple walked away without so much as looking at it,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 28, 2022 7:27:52 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/if-progeny-of-judges-of-most-superior-court-call-on-judicial-officers-at-their-residence-then-there-is-serious-problem-to-independence-of-judiciary-says-hc-judge/article65727260.ece