Not reform but a revolution is what the judiciary needs

Justice Ranjan Gogoi

Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court of India and tipped to be the next Chief Justice of India didn’t mince his words on Thursday. A selection of 12 of his statements 

The Judiciary needs nothing short of a revolution, declared Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the next senior most judge of the Supreme Court after the Chief Justice, while delivering the annual Ramnath Goenka Memorial lecture in Delhi on Thursday.

More than ever before, he said, the country needs independent journalists and noisy judges.

National Herald presents 12 of the most striking statements he made in his address.

  • I cannot recall the last time, the Judicial wing of the State made so much news. On a lighter note, let us recall, Hamilton (the American Founding Father) who had suggested that the Judiciary was the least dangerous branch of the State’s three branches –– but, were he to be here today, I wonder if he would have felt the same way.
  • In the backdrop of a bleeding mega partition, deeply entrenched inequities perpetuating injustices, our Constitution ushered us into believing in a grand promise of transformation on a scale that was beyond reformatory. It was, in all its full glory, a revolution in all aspects of life – social, economic, political. In a way, it said, let bygones be and the new society that we would be, would be egalitarian. While preserving our pluralistic character, we would be democratic and united too. The State would be religion-neutral, the citizens equal.

Justice is an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”;“democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few. They are not isolated silos because their undying endeavour is to establish one discipline –of overall justice, of an inclusive society.
  • It was a confluence of very many philosophies – the Aristotelian, for instance, which suggests that the very essence of the State is justice which according to the philosopher was a social virtue; good of others; equality and fairness. When we peruse the Preamble to the Constitution- our vision document – is it not that this ideology is enshrined in the words “Equality of status and opportunity”?
  • The Utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill whose view was that justice was the greatest good to the greatest numbers. In the Preamble, is this not enshrined in the principles of “Socialism”, and “Equality” yet again?
  • Or, the relatively more modern one: the Rawlsian perspective which is that justice as fairness is the most egalitarian and also the most plausible concept of liberalism. In the Preamble, is this not reflected in the words “Liberty of thought, expression, belief”.
  • Justice is an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few. They are not isolated silos because their undying endeavour is to establish one discipline – of overall justice, of an inclusive society.
  • The Vision of Justice was indeed attained in the courtroom. Not once, but multiple times. But has it translated into reality? Has the success of these sterling verdicts reached the ground? I will let the facts speak for themselves. On the ground, it is a descent into chaos. And it is worrisome on all counts when you sue the messenger or when you shoot the messenger, or when the messenger itself declines to deliver the message because of the fear psychosis.
  • On the 19 th June, The Indian Express had published a very insightful article (selected from The Economist) titled as ‘How Democracy Dies”. It said, at one place, that, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence…Reports of the death of democracy are greatly exaggerated. But, the least bad system of government ever devised is in trouble. It needs defenders.” I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context – not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges.
  • In his last address to the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar had said that we must not only be a political democracy but a social democracy as the former cannot last unless lies at the base of it the former. And, social democracy, he defined, as a way of life which recognises liberty, equality, fraternity as one principle. I wouldn’t want to wade into knowing if we are a successful political democracy, but, I do, earnestly believe, that we are a social democracy, in all aspects.
  • While I cannot say if it is a collective failure on our part but for a nation governed by the rule of law, is it not a matter of concern that (to this extent at least) we are defying the idea of inclusiveness? Not a reform but a revolution is what it ( Judiciary) needs, to be able to meet the challenges on the ground and to keep this institution serviceable for the common man and relevant for the nation.
  • I will say that the judiciary must certainly be more pro-active, more on the front foot. This is what I would call as redefining its role as an institution in the matters of enforcement and efficacy of the spirit of its diktats, of course, subject to constitutional morality (= separation of powers). I will even go ahead to say that the institution, at all levels, needs to become more dynamic in the matters of interpretation of laws. And, this is what I mean to say by a constitutional moment of its own kind.
  • I am not going to saddle you with the figures that we keep consuming every day on pendency, arrears and judges’ strength but in the light of what a French author had once said, “Everything has been said already, but as no one listens, we must begin again.” I will only ask and request those at the helm to finally listen so that we must not have to begin again.

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