The judges are honourable men and women. They have an unwritten code of conduct. They have professional ethics that may be called judicial ethics. The judicial ethics is a few notches higher than the ethics of other professions. A high standard of personal morality is maintained by a judge who lives up to the decorum maintained by the committed judiciary. His behaviour, public as well as private, his personal and professional conduct are expected to be above board.
Too high and too difficult to observe, one may think. Not exactly. One has to have the will to live like a judge. A judge judges others when their legal cases come before him. In turn, he is also judged by those he comes in contact with. Does an individual drop out of the society when he is elevated to the bench as a judge? No, certainly not. No man is an island. A judge is also a social being. A man is gregarious by nature. A judge is also a man, and now, a woman too. A judge cannot cut himself off the normal human relationship in the family, in the social set up and in the country he lives in. His judgements influence the individuals he has judged. He is influenced by the human trends in the society as he watches the TV, listens to the radio and reads newspapers. How can a judge not be influenced, though indirectly, by the social factors listed heretofore. And yet when he delivers a judgement on the case listed before him, he goes by the facts on record, the law of the land and does not allow extra-judicial factors or personal relationship influence him.
Balancing so many things and acting impartially is not an easy job. But a good judge does it. Can a judge socialise? He may. He should, otherwise he would be a frog in the well. The legal fraternity of judges have inter- action among themselves. In addition, the lawyers in lower courts as well as in higher courts interact socially with the judges and judicial magistrates. In non-descript towns they are members of the same club and play bridge or badminton together. Does this social circuit influence judicial decisions? Yes and No. It all depends on the individuals and not on bridge or badminton. Should this club activity of the bench and the bar under one roof be stopped? There is no law of the land that prohibits it unless it leads to a professional misconduct by one or both the parties.
In the United States of America, there is a debate going on whether a judge and a lawyer are permitted to socially interact and come close on the Facebook? A Facebook is open to all and expressing views on its pages is not banned legally. However, the question here is that of a judge who is supposed to be as aloof as possible so that his professional judgement is not influenced by the Facebook views. Very difficult to draw a line, a Lakshman rekha, and think that the emotional separation of the bench and the bar or the executive and the judiciary has been achieved.
Law may be an ass as per the views of the non-legal fraternity but it is certainly not devoid of humour. Sparkle of wit is not conspicuous by its absence. The repartees and banters between the judges and the lawyers are well known to the legal fraternity. It is said that once a senior advocate received an offer of elevation to the bench and he declined that. The Chief Justice himself enquired the reason for taking this unusual step. The senior advocate said “Your Lordship, as a counsel I do not mind talking nonsense but as a judge I will have no patience to hear nonsense all the time.”Both the chief justice and the senior advocate roared into laughter and continued with the onerous duty of talking and listening to non-sense.
Of late, the fair name of the judiciary has been sullied by more factors than one. The hydra-headed monster of corruption has been eating into the vitals of the judicial system. Some say that gone are the days when Justice was done. Now justice can be bought. An adage prevalent in the corridors of higher and lower judiciary was “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Now hundreds of thousands of cases have not even been heard, leave alone passing of judgements and orders. The Chief Justice of India himself has talked about an uprising by the people if the number of pending cases keeps on mounting like it is now. Indeed it reflects poorly on the judiciary as a whole. However, no solution has come in sight so far. The pragmatic attitude would be to put long delayed cases on fast track and make grant of adjournments a thing of the past.
What happens if a judge falls from grace and is guilty of judicial misconduct in the eye of the public and the legal fraternity? Impeachment proceedings should be started against him. Easier said than done. Not long ago Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court of India was found indulging in corrupt practices and impeachment proceedings were started against him in the Lok Sabha. A major political party, the Congress, refrained from voting and the case fell for want of requisite number of votes. Justice Dinakaran , Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, in India is liable to be impeached for alleged land grabbing. The end result is, however, doubtful. The cry for impeachment is proceeding at a snail speed. Thus a student of legal history may see that there is a wide gap between the principle and practice of judicial ethics. Unless the tangle is resolved, it is the common man who would continue to suffer. He would run from pillar to post asking for justice but inordinate delay in the hearing of his case would amount to denying Justice to him.
The constitutional provisions of Justice for all is fine to read in the book or write in an article like the present one but no such thing exists in our day to day life. Will one be wrong if one says that the concept of Justice is now reduced to a mere figment of imagination. It exists but in Fiction, not in Fact. So help me God!
JUDGES AND JUDICIAL ETHICS
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
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