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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday said it hoped that the January 12, 2018 press conference by the four most senior judges of the apex court was the “first and the last occasion” when the judges have gone to the media.
The then top four judges of the apex court – Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph – had held an unprecedented press conference on January 12, 2018, when Justice Dipak Misra was the Chief Justice of India, and had highlighted a litany of problems afflicting the highest court of the country.
The then CJI and the four judges have since retired.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, imposing a “nominal fine” of Re 1 on Prashant Bhushan in a contempt case, noted on Monday that the activist lawyer had tried to justify the averments made on the basis of press conference by these four judges.
“We hope it was the first and the last occasion that the judges have gone to press, and God gives wisdom to protect its dignity by internal mechanism, particularly when allegations made, if any, publicly cannot be met by sufferer judges. It would cause suffering to them till eternity,” said the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.
“Truth can be the defence to the judges also, but they are bound by their judicial norms, ethics, and code of conduct,” the bench said in its 82-page judgement.
The apex court said that similarly, the code of conduct for advocates is equally applicable to the lawyers also, being part of the system.
“The Rules of Professional Ethics formed by the Bar Council, though couched under statutory power, are themselves not enough to prescribe or proscribe the nobility of profession in entirety. The nobility of profession encompasses, over and above, the Rules of Ethics,” it said.
The bench noted that judges have to express their opinion by their judgments and they cannot enter into public debate or go to press.
“It is very easy to make any allegation against the judges in the newspaper and media. Judges have to be the silent sufferer of such allegations, and they cannot counter such allegations publicly by going on public platforms, newspapers or media. Nor can they write anything about the correctness of the various wild allegations made, except when they are dealing with the matter,” it said.
The top court said that retired judges do “have the prestige that they have earned by dint of hard work and dedication to this institution”.
It noted that judges are also not supposed to be answering each and every allegation made and enter into public debate.
“Thus, it is necessary that when they cannot speak out, they cannot be made to suffer the loss of their reputation and prestige, which is essential part of the right to live with dignity,” it said.
The Bar is supposed to the “spokesperson for the protection” of the judicial system and they are an integral part of the system, it said.
“The Bar and Bench are part of the same system i.e. the judicial system, and enjoy equal reputation. If a scathing attack is made on the judges, it would become difficult for them to work fearlessly and with the objectivity of approach to the issues,” it said.
“The judgement can be criticized. However, motives to the judges need not be attributed, as it brings the administration of justice into disrepute,” the bench said.
The apex court imposed a “nominal fine” of Re 1 on Bhushan, who was convicted for criminal contempt for his two tweets against the judiciary, saying he has attempted to “denigrate the reputation of the institution of administration of justice”.
The court said it was “showing magnanimity” and instead of imposing any severe punishment, it was sentencing Bhushan with a nominal fine of Re 1.
It said the fine be deposited with the apex court registry by September 15, failing which Bhushan shall undergo a simple imprisonment of three months and he would further be debarred from practising in top court for three years.
The apex court had on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary and maintained that they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in public interest.