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Friday, Nov 28, 2003

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Law Day: An occasion for some soul-searching

B. S. Raghavan

NOVEMBER 26, the date on which "we, the people" adopted the Constitution in 1949, is observed as the Law Day in India. (Curiously, in the US, May 1, the Labour Day, is also the Law Day!)

It provides the occasion for soul searching on the state of the judiciary and the rule of law.

Expectedly, functions are organised all over the country in which legal luminaries and high dignitaries participate and solemnly dwell on the various aspects pertinent to the theme. This year has been no exception.

Significantly, the Chief Justice of India, Mr V. N. Khare, has devoted almost his entire speech at the Supreme Court Bar Association to a fervent call to the judiciary at all levels to maintain the most stringent standards of integrity and impartiality.

There can be no more telling enunciation of the core principle governing judicial conduct than his observation that "A judge is always a judge and he cannot have split personality with different traits at different times.

All actions of a judge must be judicious in character".

Unfortunately, though such exhortations and the elaborate "Restatement of the Values of Judicial Life" adopted in 1999, have been unable to guarantee prudence, propriety and probity.

There have been dismaying reports of fall from grace of some members of the higher judiciary in States such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi and Punjab, with the highest occupant of the Apex Court himself becoming the subject of an unsavoury controversy some years ago.

It is clear that unless a strong and effective mechanism is in place capable of coming down heavily and quickly on the errant judge, promulgation of codes and propounding of values in themselves may not lead to any perceptible improvement.

The Supreme Court has no doubt "in-house procedures" to deal with allegations against judges, but they suffer from lack of transparency and accountability to the people who, in the ultimate analysis, are the sovereign masters of every creature of the Constitution.

This is where the establishment of a National Judicial Commission assumes vital importance. The sooner it is brought into being, the better.

Meanwhile, the process of selection of judges should be such as to empanel only those who are absolutely spotless.

Recently, there was public protest about the appointment of a person of dubious credentials to the higher judiciary, with no categorical statement from the appointing authority clearing the misgivings.

Appointing formerly active and entrenched members of political parties to judicial office is another cause for concern, as it defiles the very fount of justice.

Judiciary is the saviour of the last resort and the sanctity of the only remaining citadel against anarchy must be safeguarded at all costs.

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