Judicial verdicts cannot be reflection of influence of public opinion: SC judge Pardiwala

SC judge Justice J B Pardiwala said the top court has only to keep "rule of law" in mind while deciding on disputes as "judicial verdicts cannot be the reflection of the influence of public opinion"

Judicial verdicts cannot be reflection of influence of public opinion: SC judge Pardiwala


Supreme Court judge Justice J B Pardiwala on Sunday said the top court has only to keep the "rule of law" in mind while deciding on disputes as "judicial verdicts cannot be the reflection of the influence of public opinion".

Stressing on the primacy of the rule of law over popular public sentiments, Justice Pardiwala said balancing the intent of the majority populace on one hand and meeting its demand and affirming the rule of law on the other is an "arduous exercise".

"It requires extreme judicial craftsmanship to walk the tightrope between the two, that is 'log kya kahenge, log kya sochenge' (what will people say, what will they think) is an enigma which haunts each and every judge whenever he is to pen down a judgment," he said.

The apex court judge was speaking at the second Justice HR Khanna Memorial National Symposium, organised by the Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow and the National Law University, Odisha, along with the Confederation of Alumni for National Law Universities (CAN Foundation).

"I firmly believe that it is for the highest court of the country to decide things keeping only one thing in mind that is the rule of law.... The judicial verdicts cannot be the reflection of the influence of public opinion....

"I believe in a democracy, we have systemic agreements to live by court decisions. It does not mean that court decisions are always right and free of all other considerations. We simply agree to live by those. In a democracy, law is more important," he said speaking on the subject of "Vox Populi vs Rule of Law: Supreme Court of India".

Justice Pardiwala also said digital and social media need to be mandatorily regulated in the country to preserve the rule of law under the Constitution as it is "dangerous" on their part to cross the "lakshmanrekha" and undertake personalised, agenda-driven attacks on judges.

"The judiciary cannot exist independent of the society but the rule of law is insurmountable," he said.

Justice Pardiwala said conviction in the constitutional values and a conceptual understanding of the rule of law are needed to overcome the popular public sentiments, which at times are not in consonance with legal schemes.

"The rule of law is the most distinguishing feature of the Indian democracy. I firmly believe that there is no exception to it. The rule of law must prevail and public opinion has to be subordinate to the rule of law," he said.

The Supreme Court judge referred to jurists and said "we are the guardians of the right and we have to talk about things which people may not like to hear".

A judge, in an exceptional case, may have to be cognizant of the sentiments of the society and the effect of the judgment that he is going to deliver, he added.

Justice Pardiwala referred to various judgments, including the verdict that allowed the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala and the one that decriminalised consensual gay sex, and said these were against the popular public sentiment but in conformity with the concept of rule of law.

"The will of the people must prevail. The Constitution of India provides for an elected president.... State legislatures are also elected. But the Supreme Court judges are not elected neither are the high court judges, yet the Constitution confers the powers to undertake the judicial review and writ that the courts can nullify the unconstitutional act of the executive and the elected representatives of the people assembled in Parliament and the state legislatures," he said.

This conclusion does not necessarily imply that the judiciary is superior to the legislature and it only supposes that the power of the people embodied in the Constitution is superior to both, he added.

"The role of the judiciary and the role of the Constitution is the pious trust reposed by the people," Justice Pardiwala said.

Stating that judges must not participate in social media discussions, he said, "Judges never speak through their tongue, only their judgments."

"The rule of law is a distinguishing feature of the Indian Constitution. Countries which do not have parliamentary systems also have the rule of law. Even a dictatorship can also claim that it rules by law," the Supreme Court judge said.

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