7 Jun 2010

No disparaging remarks against Judges: Supreme Court

In a recent decision the Supreme Court has sent a word of caution of higher courts to exercise caution in the language they use to criticize the orders/decisions/actions of the lower courts. The Supreme Court was dealing with the correctness of an order passed by the High Court in which severe comments were made against a District Judge for having ignored certain factual aspects in passing an order. The High Court had went on to criticize the judge and also directed administrative action. In appeal against the passing of such remarks, the District Judge had prayed that the same be expunged. The Supreme Court, being of the view that such criticism was uncalled for, stated the law position of law on the issue. 

The Court inter alia declared the position of law as under;

9. The question whether in exercise of the appellate/revisional jurisdiction qua the orders/judgments of courts subordinate to it, the High Court should make disparaging remarks/comments casting aspersions on the credibility of the Judicial Officer, whose order is under challenge, has been considered in several cases. Almost 47 years ago, Gajendragadkar, J. (as he then was) speaking for a Bench of three-Judges in Ishwari Prasad Misra v. Mohd. Isa (1963) 3 SCR 722, stressed the need to adopt utmost judicial restraint against using strong language and imputation of corrupt motives against lower judiciary by observing that in such matters, the concerned Judge has no remedy in law to vindicate his position. In K.P. Tiwari v. State of M.P., 1994 Supp (1) SCC 540, this Court reminded all concerned that using intemperate language and castigating strictures on the judges of the lower judiciary diminishes the image of judiciary in the eyes of public. Some of the observations made in that judgment are extracted below: 
“We are, however, impelled to remind the learned Judge of the High Court that however anguished he might have been over the unmerited bail granted to the accused, he should not have allowed himself the latitude of ignoring judicial precaution and propriety even momentarily. The higher courts every day come across orders of the lower courts which are not justified either in law or in fact and modify them or set them aside. That is one of the functions of the superior courts. Our legal system acknowledges the fallibility of the judges and hence provides for appeals and revisions. A judge tries to discharge his duties to the best of his capacity. While doing so, sometimes, he is likely to err. It is well said that a judge who has not committed an error is yet to be born. And that applies to judges at all levels from the lowest to the highest. Sometimes, the difference in views of the higher and the lower courts is purely a result of a difference in approach and perception. On such occasions, the lower courts are not necessarily wrong and the higher courts always right. It has also to be remembered that the lower judicial officers mostly work under a charged atmosphere and are constantly under a psychological pressure with all the contestants and their lawyers almost breathing down their necks — more correctly up to their nostrils. They do not have the benefit of a detached atmosphere of the higher courts to think coolly and decide patiently. Every error, however gross it may look, should not, therefore, be attributed to improper motive. It is possible that a particular judicial officer may be consistently passing orders creating a suspicion of judicial conduct which is not wholly or even partly attributable to innocent functioning. Even in such cases, the proper course for the higher court to adopt is to make note of his conduct in the confidential record of his work and to use it on proper occasions. The judges in the higher courts have also a duty to ensure judicial discipline and respect for the judiciary from all concerned. The respect for the judiciary is not enhanced when judges at the lower level are criticised intemperately and castigated publicly. No greater damage can be done to the administration of justice and to the confidence of the people in the judiciary than when the judges of the higher courts publicly express lack of faith in the subordinate judges for one reason or the other. It must be remembered that the officers against whom such strictures are publicly passed, stand condemned for ever in the eyes of their subordinates and of the members of the public. No better device can be found to destroy the judiciary from within. The judges must, therefore, exercise self-restraint. There are ways and ways of expressing disapproval of the orders of the subordinate courts but attributing motives to them is certainly not one of them. That is the surest way to take the judiciary downhill.”
10. In Braj Kishore Thakur v. Union of India (1997) 4 SCC 65, this Court noted that while allowing an appeal preferred by the Collector of Customs, Patna against the grant of bail to two persons who were allegedly found in possession of 97 Kg of non-duty paid ganja, the learned Single Judge of Patna High Court made scathing remarks against Sessions Judgecum- Special Judge, Purnia. This Court quashed the remarks and observed:
“No greater damage can be caused to the administration of justice and to the confidence of people in judicial institutions when Judges of higher courts publicly express lack of faith in the subordinate Judges. It has been said, time and again, that respect for judiciary is not enhances by using intemperate language and by casting aspersions against lower judiciary. It is well to remember that a judicial officer against whom aspersions are made in the judgment could not appear before the higher court to defend his order. Judges of higher courts must, therefore, exercise greater judicial restraint and adopt greater care when they are tempted to employ strong terms against the lower judiciary.”
11. In A.M. Mathur v. Pramod Kumar Gupta (1990) 2 SCC 533, this Court sounded a note of caution against making derogatory remarks against persons or authorities whose conduct comes under scrutiny and observed: 
“Judicial restraint and discipline are as necessary to the orderly administration of justice as they are to the effectiveness of the army. The duty of restraint, this humility of function should be constant theme of our Judges. This quality in decision-making is as much necessary for Judges to command respect as to protect the independence of the judiciary. Judicial restraint in this regard might better be called judicial respect, that is, respect by the judiciary. Respect to those who come before the court as well to other coordinate branches of the State, the executive and the legislature. There must be mutual respect. When these qualities fail or when litigants and public believe that the Judge has failed in these qualities, it will be neither good for the Judge nor for the judicial process.” 
12. In the matter of ‘K’ A Judicial Officer (supra), the Court reviewed some of the earlier precedents and observed:
“The primary purpose of pronouncing a verdict is to dispose of the matter in controversy between the parties before it. A Judge is not expected to drift away from pronouncing upon the controversy, to sitting in judgment over the conduct of the judicial and quasi-judicial authorities whose decisions or orders are put in issue before him, and indulge in criticising and commenting thereon unless the conduct of an authority or subordinate functionary or anyone else than the parties comes of necessity under review and expression of opinion thereon going to the extent of commenting or criticising becomes necessary as a part of reasoning requisite for arriving at a conclusion necessary for deciding the main controversy or it becomes necessary to have animadverted thereon for the purpose of arriving at a decision on an issue involved in the litigation. This applies with added force when the superior court is hearing an appeal or revision against an order of a subordinate judicial officer and feels inclined to animadvert on him. The wisdom of a Superior Judge itching for making observations on a Subordinate Judge before ventilating into expression must pause for a moment and read the counsel of Cardozo—
“Write an opinion, and read it a few years later when it is dissected in the briefs of counsel. You will learn for the first time the limitations of the power of speech, or, if not those of speech in general, at all events your own. All sorts of gaps and obstacles and impediments will obtrude themselves before your gaze, as pitilessly manifest as the hazards on a golf course. Sometimes you will know that the fault is truly yours, in which event you can only smite your breast, and pray for deliverance thereafter.” (Essays on Jurisprudence, Columbia Law Review, 1963 at p. 315.)
In the case at hand we are concerned with the observations made by the High Court against a judicial officer who is a serving member of subordinate judiciary. Under the constitutional scheme control over the district courts and courts subordinate thereto has been vested in the High Courts. The control so vested is administrative, judicial and disciplinary. The role of High Court is also of a friend, philosopher and guide of judiciary subordinate to it. The strength of power is not displayed solely in cracking a whip on errors, mistakes or failures; the power should be so wielded as to have propensity to prevent and to ensure exclusion of repetition if committed once innocently or unwittingly. “Pardon the error but not its repetition”. The power to control is not to be exercised solely by wielding a teacher’s cane; the members of subordinate judiciary look up to the High Court for the power to control to be exercised with parent-like care and affection. The exercise of statutory jurisdiction, appellate or revisional and the exercise of constitutional power to control and supervise the functioning of the district courts and courts subordinate thereto empowers the High Court to formulate an opinion and place it on record not only on the judicial working but also on the conduct of the judicial officers. The existence of power in higher echelons of judiciary to make observations even extending to criticism incorporated in judicial orders cannot be denied. However, the High Courts have to remember that criticisms and observations touching a subordinate judicial officer incorporated in judicial pronouncements have their own mischievous infirmities. Firstly, the judicial officer is condemned unheard which is violative of principles of natural justice. A member of subordinate judiciary himself dispensing justice should not be denied this minimal natural justice so as to shield against being condemned unheard. Secondly, the harm caused by such criticism or observation may be incapable of being undone. Such criticism of the judicial officer contained in a judgment, reportable or not, is a pronouncement in open and therefore becomes public. The same Judge who found himself persuaded, sitting on judicial side, to make observations guided by the facts of a single case against a Subordinate Judge may, sitting on administrative side and apprised of overall meritorious performance of the Subordinate Judge, may irretrievably regret his having made those observations on judicial side, the harming effect whereof even he himself cannot remove on administrative side. Thirdly, human nature being what it is, such criticism of a judicial officer contained in the judgment of a higher court gives the litigating party a sense of victory not only over his opponent but also over the Judge who had decided the case against him. This is subversive of judicial authority of the deciding Judge. Fourthly, seeking expunging of the observations by a judicial officer by filing an appeal or petition of his own reduces him to the status of a litigant arrayed as a party before the High Court or Supreme Court — a situation not very happy from the point of view of the functioning of the judicial system. May be for the purpose of pleading his cause he has to take the assistance of a legal practitioner and such legal practitioner may be one practising before him. Look at the embarrassment involved. And last but not the least, the possibility of a single or casual aberration of an otherwise honest, upright and righteous Judge being caught unawares in the net of adverse observations cannot be ruled out. Such an incident would have a seriously demoralising effect not only on him but also on his colleagues. If all this is avoidable why should it not be avoided?”
13. We may now revert to the present case. Although, the order of injunction passed by the appellant may not be legally correct or justified and he may have committed an error in not taking serious view of the conduct of the plaintiffs who had apparently concealed the factum of injunction orders having been passed in favour of the defendants in the suits filed by them and, therefore, the Division Bench of the High Court may be fully justified in setting aside the order of injunction, but there was absolutely no justification for the Division Bench to make highly disparaging remarks against the appellant as a judicial officer casting doubts on his ability to decide the cases objectively. The use of the words `out of sheer arrogance and disrespect to the lawful order’ and the expression `judicial authoritarianism’ in paragraph 10 shows that the Division Bench ignored the words of caution administered by this Court in several judgments including those referred to hereinabove and castigated the appellant without any justification. The observations and remarks made by the Division Bench of the High Court are bound to adversely affect the image of the appellant in the eyes of the public, his credibility as a judicial officer and also affects his career. We are sure that if the Division Bench of the High Court had kept in view the judgments of this Court, it would not have made disparaging remarks against the appellant, which, in the facts and circumstances of the case, were not at all called for.

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