Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi at the 14th Conference of Chief Justices of members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Tuesday spoke about the importance of independent judiciary. He acknowledged the rise of populism and the challenges it poses to the independence and integrity of the court and asked judicial institutions to fight the populist forces and protect the spirit of the constitution.
While addressing the two-day conference in Russia's Sochi, Ranjan Gogoi addressed the growing trend of populists judges and said, “To some critics and naysayers, this situation presents a case for hoisting the classical counter narrative - unelected judges, acting under the constitutional mandate, get to overturn the acts of the elected majority. However, it is for us to recollect that such situations across the world have heaped tremendous pressure on judicial organs, and it is no surprise that in some jurisdictions, judiciary too has succumbed to populist forces.”
"This is also an area that requires the judiciary to prepare itself, to strengthen itself about such populist onslaughts on the independence of the institution," he said. He stated that exhortation came as the backdrop to the frustrations of the populists globally against the “tyranny of the unelected elite”, who are often accused of controlling the institution and obstructing the fulfilment of what the masses want as represented by the electoral mandates.
He also emphasised the independence of the judiciary saying, “Independence of judiciary is not a one-time pill – it is a ‘state of affairs’ that has to remain constant in the face of continuous and recurrent waves of onslaught aimed at disturbing such state”.
While speaking about the judiciary in India, he said, that the executive and judiciary have enjoyed a “healthy relationship of mutual respect”.
Though he located his theme in the global context, the CJI also seemed to take issue with the NDA government's assertion that the executive must have a role in appointment of judges of constitutional courts. “Non-political appointment of judges alone could ensure independence of the judiciary,” he stressed.
The CJI said: “The human agency, through which justice is sought to be administered, has to be adequately secured and fortified in ordinary times, so that it is sufficiently equipped to deal with such forces of populism in extraordinary times, lest they overrun the judicial edifice, too. This would be our strongest case for strengthening the independence of the judiciary.”
He also emphasised that another aspect of judicial independence is through financial independence and said, “Control of revenues and expenditure vests with governments and is often used as a tool to arm twist judiciary”.
The other Supreme Court judges who took part in the conference were Justice VN Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah.
The conference ended with a declaration for further promotion of cooperation among judicial bodies of SCO countries.