18 Dec 2016

Security comes above prestige; High Court judges to be frisked at Airports: Supreme Court

Setting aside the directions issued by the High Court to the effect that the judges of the High Court cannot be personally frisked at the airport, the Supreme Court in its recent decision has observed that "matters of security are not issues of prestige" and "these are not matters of 'status'". The Supreme Court has also criticized the High Court for ignoring the self-imposed restraint which if "not maintained the court as an institution would invite a justifiable criticism of encroaching upon" the terrain of the executive wing. 
In its decision in Union of India v. Rajasthan High Court [Civil Appeal No. 717/2006, decision dated 14.12.2016] the Supreme Court was concerned with challenge to correctness of the decision of the Rajasthan High Court wherein directions were issued to the Central Government to include Chief Justice and other judges of the High Court in no-frisking list at all airports of the country. It was pointed out by the High Court that "the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court travels often by air between Jodhpur and Jaipur in connection with his official duties and was being inconvenienced by not being exempted from pre-embarkation security checks". It was further observed by the High Court that "in view of the threat perception all VVIPs/VIPs should submit themselves to pre-embarkation security checks 'without exhibiting their egos' but if certain persons amongst them were to be exempted then all constitutional functionaries should be treated at par". 
Accordingly the High Court, holding that even High Court judges were constitutional functionaries, directed the Central Government to include them in the list of no-frisking list at airports. The Supreme Court, however, did not approve. Setting aside the decision of the High Court, the Supreme Court made the following observations;
9 The High Court has evidently transgressed the ‘wise and self-imposed’ restraints (as they are described) on the power of judicial review by entertaining the writ petition and issuing these directions. The cause for invoking its jurisdiction suo moto was a news report in regard to a breach of security at Sanganer airport. Matters of security ought to be determined by authorities of the government vested with the duty and obligation to do so. Gathering of intelligence information, formulation of policies of security, deciding on steps to be taken to meet threats originating both internally and externally are matters on which courts singularly lack expertise. The breach of security at Sanganer airport undoubtedly was an issue of serious concern and would have been carefully investigated both in terms of prosecuting the offender and by revisiting the reasons for and implications of a security lapse of this nature. This exercise was for the authorities to carry out. It was not for the Court in the exercise of its power of judicial review to suggest a policy which it considered fit. The formulation of suggestions by the High Court for framing a National Security Policy travelled far beyond the legitimate domain of judicial review. Formulation of such a policy is based on information and inputs which are not available to the court. The court is not an expert in such matters. Judicial review is concerned with the legality of executive action and the court can interfere only where there is a breach of law or a violation of the Constitution. 
10. A suo moto exercise of the nature embarked upon by the High Court encroaches upon the domain of the executive. In a democracy based on the rule of law, government is accountable to the legislature and, through it, to the people. The powers under Article 226 are wide – wide enough to reach out to injustice wherever it may originate. These powers have been construed liberally and have been applied expansively where human rights have been violated. But, the notion of injustice is relatable to justice under the law. Justice should not be made to depend upon the individual perception of a decision maker on where a balance or solution should lie. Judges are expected to apply standards which are objective and well defined by law and founded upon constitutional principle. When they do so, judges walk the path on a road well-travelled. When judicial creativity leads judges to roads less travelled, in search of justice, they have yet to remain firmly rooted in law and the Constitution. The distinction between what lies within and what lies outside the power of judicial review is necessary to preserve the sanctity of judicial power. Judicial power is respected and adhered to in a system based on the rule of law precisely for its nuanced and restrained exercise. If these restraints are not maintained the court as an institution would invite a justifiable criticism of encroaching upon a terrain on which it singularly lacks expertise and which is entrusted for governance to the legislative and executive arms of government. Judgments are enforced, above all, because of the belief which society and arms of governance of a democratic society hold in the sanctity of the judicial process. This sanctity is based on institutional prestige. Institutional authority is established over long years, by a steadfast commitment to a calibrated exercise of judicial power. Fear of consequences is one reason why citizens obey the law as well as judicial decisions. But there are far stronger reasons why they do so and the foundation for that must be carefully preserved. That is the rationale for the principle that judicial review is confined to cases where there is a breach of law or of the Constitution. The judgment of the Rajasthan High Court is an example of a matter where the court should not have entered.  
11 By the time that the Rajasthan High Court dealt with the case, the list of exemptions had been modified to include Chief Justices of High Courts in the list of persons exempted from pre-embarkation security. Even assuming that the intervention of the High Court in such a matter could have been invoked in the first place (though we believe it should not have been) the matter should have rested there. The cause for which the suo moto writ petition was registered was left behind and the episode which led to the invocation of the jurisdiction found no place in the ultimate directions. The direction to include judges of the High Court was unrelated to the very basis on which the jurisdiction under Article 226 was invoked. But that apart, there is a more fundamental reason why the case should not have been entertained and directions of this nature ought not to have been issued. Matters of security are not issues of prestige. They are not matters of ‘status’. The Union government has adopted the position that the issue as to whether pre-embarkation security exemptions should be granted does not depend only on the warrant of precedence. Among the factors which are borne in mind is that the person who is exempted from pre-embarkation security checks must, according to the government, be secured by such a level of government security on a 24x7 basis, which would virtually preclude the possibility of any prohibited or dangerous items being introduced on board an aircraft through his or her baggage. The security perception of the Union government is that no exemption can be granted to a dignitary if he/she is not under effective government security coverage on a 24x7 basis. Heads of foreign missions in India are exempted from pre-embarkation security checks on a reciprocal basis. We are not called upon to decide upon the legality or justification for the inclusion of the name of any particular individual in the list of exempted persons in these proceedings. What we have said above is to emphasise that the view of the Union government is based on a considered assessment of security perceptions and ought not to have been interfered with in the manner that the High Court did in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226. 

No comments: