SC: Relief oriented judicial approach, solely, cannot cast doubts on integrity

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 6th March 2020, in the matter of Sadhna Chaudhary vs. State of U.P. & Anr. observed that Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. However, relief­ oriented judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

It is a principle since the nineteenth century that judges cannot be held responsible for the end result or the effect of their decisions. This is necessary to both uphold the rule of law, and insulate judicial reasoning from extraneous factors. (Para 18)

There are no two ways with the proposition that Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. (Para 19)

Judicial officers do discharge a very sensitive and important constitutional role. They not only keep in check excesses of the executive, safeguard citizens’ rights and maintain law and order. Instead, they support the very framework of civilised society. It is courts, which uphold the law and ensure its enforcement. They instil trust of the constitutional order in people, and ensure the majesty of law and adherence to its principles. Courts hence prevent people from resorting to their animalistic instincts, and instead provide them with a gentler and more­civilised alternative of resolving disputes. (Para 19)

In getting people to obey their dicta, Courts do not make use of guns or other (dis)incentives, but instead rely on the strength of their reasoning and a certain trust and respect in the minds of the general populace. Hence, it is necessary that any corruption or deviation from judicial propriety by the guardians of law themselves, be dealt with sternly and swiftly. (Para 19)

Mere suspicion cannot constitute ‘misconduct’. Any ‘probability’ of misconduct needs to be supported with oral or documentary material, even though the standard of proof would obviously not be at par with that in a criminal trial. While applying these yardsticks, the High Court is expected to consider the existence of differing standards and approaches amongst different judges. There are innumerable instances of judicial officers who are liberal in granting bail, awarding compensation under MACT or for acquired land, backwages to workmen or mandatory compensation in other cases of tortious liabilities. Such relief­ oriented judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer. (Para 21)

Furthermore, one cannot overlook the reality of ours being a country wherein countless complainants are readily available without hesitation to tarnish the image of the judiciary, often for mere pennies or even cheap momentary popularity. Sometimes a few disgruntled members of the Bar also join hands with them, and officers of the subordinate judiciary are usually the easiest target. It is, therefore, the duty of High Courts to extend their protective umbrella and ensure that upright and straightforward judicial officers are not subjected to unmerited onslaught. (Para 22)

The standards to be met prior to interference in exercise of writ jurisdiction are very high, and there needs to be gross substantive injustice through the conclusion, glaring irregularities in procedure or the need to resolve important questions of law for a writ court to overturn the Reference Court’s order. (Para 24)

Indeed, many-a-­times it is possible that a judicial officer can indulge in conduct unbecoming of his office whilst at the same time giving an order, the result of which is legally sound. Such unbecoming conduct can either be in the form of a judge taking a case out of turn, delaying hearings through adjournments, seeking bribes to give parties their legal dues etc. None of these necessarily need to affect the outcome. (Para 27)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_06-Mar-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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