Judges should not be hypersensitive, says Justice Madan B. Lokur

“It is high time judges sat down for an introspection,” the former Supreme Court judge said.

Judges should not be “hypersensitive” about criticism, former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur, has said.

He said it was high time judges sat down for an introspection on what had gone wrong and what was to be done.

Veteran journalist N. Ram said there should be a “robust, strong, uninhibited and informed criticism of the functioning of the judiciary”.

They were speaking at a webinar on ‘Keys to Governance: Independence of Judiciary’ organised by the India International Centre and the D.S. Borker Memorial Foundation on Thursday. Other speakers were senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy and Professor Tarunabh Khaitan. The discussion was moderated by Suhas Borker.

The Supreme Court has been at the centre of a furious public debate on various aspects, including a Chief Justice of India becoming a Rajya Sabha MP after retirement and the trial and punishment of civil rights lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, for scandalising the Supreme Court. The year had also seen a spate of petitions accusing actors, stand-up comedians and artists of contempt of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Ram pointed out that the provision of “scandalising the court” in the contempt law should be struck down by the court itself. Parliament would not do it. The provision was vague, arbitrary and had a chilling effect on free speech. He said the case against Mr. Bhushan was “shocking” and one must push the line with well-informed criticism of the judiciary.

“It is important for people to have the opportunity and entitlement to criticise the judiciary, to call it out when judiciary is corrupt or arbitrary or allows itself to be submissive to external influences. Was the January 12 press conference of the judges a contempt? A lot of people applauded [the four judges, including Justice Lokur, who held the press conference],” Mr. Ram said.

Ms. Guruswamy emphatically said the contempt of court law should be scrapped.

Justice Lokur, however, said it was for each individual judge to decide whether or not to accept post-retirement assignments. As long as the judge had integrity, his ideology or bent of mind did not matter.

He said the appointments process to higher courts should be transparent. The Collegium system of appointments was far from perfect, but it could not be dropped until there was a better alternative. Justice Lokur said it was high-time the Supreme Court live-streamed the hearings of certain important cases.

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