An Independent Judiciary is the crown jewel and bedrock of any democracy. Independence of the judiciary signifies its autonomy of operations, exclusive of other organs of the government, the executive, and the legislature. This is the only true way that unbiased, unadulterated justice can be delivered. Judges must be able to carry out their responsibilities without fear or favor.
The underlying purpose of the independence of the judiciary is natural justice. This simply means that judges must thrive in an environment where the law of the land is the only factor manipulating their interpretation of the dispute. The approved and widely accepted sentiment dictates them to act in a manner depicting that justice is not only done but also appears to be done. Montesquieu, a French Philosopher, first propounded the idea of an independent judiciary. His theory of separation of powers of the three branches of the Government – Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary garnered traction, tangible implementation of which could be seen when America's founding fathers established a separate judiciary and when in 1701, the UK overturned their previous practice to establish judicial independence.
Though in India, there is no express provision in the Constitution but the independence of the Judiciary and rule of law are the basic features of the Constitution and cannot be abrogated even by constitutional amendments as observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India [AIR 1962 SC 149], wherein the Indian Supreme Court rejected the central government’s claim for protection against disclosure and directed the Union of India to disclose the requested documents.
An independent judiciary is a sine qua non of a vibrant democratic system for only an impartial and independent judiciary can stand as a bulwark for the protection of the rights of the individuals and meet out even-handed justice. Judges in India are protected from any civil or criminal proceedings, for any act, done or spoken by them while discharging their judicial obligations. This protection is guaranteed to them vide the Judges (Protection) Act, 1985. Additionally, Section 77 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 protects judicial acts undertaken by judges while exercising their powers in good faith. However, because absolute power inevitably leads to an impartial power dynamic, Section 219 provides a safeguard against judicial abuse of power by punishing public servants who, corruptly or maliciously pronounce any judicial decision which is known to them to be contrary to law. Cogent arguments are placed in front of the judiciary to analyze, at the behest of judges particularly. However, while in theory, the dispensation of justice sounds uncomplicated, this mammoth task is usually influenced by several unwelcome elements.
To further discuss the significance and symbolism of judicial independence, placing prominence on the security of judges, the case in point would be the recent allegations by Karnataka High Court Justice HP Sandesh
Need for Judicial Independence
Even the most civil societies witness disputes and conflicts of sorts. The settlement of these disputes is paramount in maintaining said civility and public harmony. The rule of law thus, and an independent body operating under becomes a necessity. This idea of rule of law implies that all individuals — rich and poor, men or women, forward or backward castes — are subjected to the same law. The principal role of the judiciary is thus to uphold rule of law and ensure its supremacy. This ensures that democracy does not give way to individual or group dictatorship.
The Constitution of India is the fundamental law of the land from which all other laws derive their authority and with which they must conform. Although in India, there is no separate provision that expresses rules and regulations in the context of judicial independence, but it is imbibed in the letters of various provisions of the Constitution. Independence of the judiciary and rule of law are the basic features of the Constitution and cannot be abrogated.
The Indian Constitution specifically directs the states “to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State. the nature of the Indian Constitution-whether it is federal or unitary-is ambiguous. While the Union and States have their distinct powers and organs of governance given in the constitution they do not have a separate judiciary. The judiciary thus has a clear pyramidal structure with the lower or subordinate courts at the bottom, the High Courts in the middle, and the Supreme Court at the top.
The unitary character of the judiciary is a conscious and deliberate act of the constitution makers for whom a single integrated judiciary and uniformity of law were essential for the maintenance of the unity and uniform standards of judicial behavior and independence.
The constitution of India has taken inspiration from the American founding fathers and the house of lords’ courts to adopt diverse devices that would help ensure the independence of the judiciary. Extensively written provisions are in steady place for ensuring the independent position of the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. the judges, torch bearers of this independence have to take an oath before being formally appointed to faithfully perform their duties without fear, favor, affection, or ill-will, and to defend the constitution of India and the laws. Recognition of the doctrine of constitutional sovereignty is implicit in this oath. Even the process of said appointment has been structured in a manner that ensures that it doesn't reflect any arbitrariness. The judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are appointed by the President of India, the head of the state. The constitution of India has made it obligatory for the President to make the appointments in consultation with the highest judicial authorities. The constitution also prescribes necessary qualifications for such appointments, unbiased by political considerations.
To undercut any allegations and cases of sudden removals, the Constitution provides for the Security of Tenure of Judges. The judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court’s serve with goodwill and not during the pleasure of the President. They may be removed from office only through impeachment on the ground of proven misbehavior or incapacity.
Issue: Karnataka High Court judge HP Sandesh
Recently, Karnataka High Court judge Justice HP Sandesh went on record and alleged that he was indirectly threatened with a post-transfer for passing orders against the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau Seemanth Kumar Singh. Justice Sandesh expressed that this threat was a blatant act of interference with the dispensation of justice and a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
Justice Sandesh had orally alleged that a sitting High Court judge told him about some other judge who was transferred, insinuating that he could face the same fate.
Justice Sandesh made the aforementioned statement while hearing a bail application filed by Deputy Tahsildar PS Mahesh, who was arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh to get a favorable order on a land dispute case from the Bengaluru (Urban) deputy commissioner’s office. Mahesh had claimed in a statement that he had received the bribe on the instructions of IAS officer and Deputy Commissioner J Manjunath.
Even after the court's directions to the Anti-corruption agency to produce documents against J Manjunath, special counsel Manmohan ON defaulted. The judge then asked why Manjunath has not been arrested and claimed that the anti-corruption agency was protecting him by not producing the records.
However, soon after Justice Sandesh’s scathing remarks, IAS officer Manjunath was arrested.
As is evident from the case, Judges face security threats both inside as well as beyond their courtrooms. Their job requires them to routinely deal with and reprimand antisocial elements. This makes them susceptible to attacks of sorts. The constitutions or the foundational laws on the judiciary are, however, only the starting point in the process of securing judicial independence. In finality, the independence of the judiciary depends on the sum of the factors constituting a favorable environment made and backed by all state organs including the judiciary and the public opinion.
The independence of the judges also needs to be constantly guarded against unexpected events and the changing social, political, and economic conditions; it is too fragile to be left unguarded
Even previously in 2021, a Jharkhand Judge was murdered for following the judicial procedure, which unearthed a greater conspiracy.
The constitution provides for a judiciary, which is independent, in order to maintain national security, integrity, and harmony. Unlike the discussed case, there should be no interference by the legislature, the executive, or its appointed authorities, abusing their power to manipulate proceedings of the judiciary in their favor. The judges should be given adequate protection and incentives in doing their part to uphold democracy. Cases that involve judges receiving threats, like those received by Judge Sandesh to ones that involve murder, like the one of Dhanbad judge Uttam Anand should be dealt with, with extreme scrutiny and haste, in order to set a precedent for the malefactors.