Sunday, April 17, 2016

On retreats for India Supreme Court Judges & why it was wrong for NSA Ajit Doval to address the Judges in a closed door session

The Judges of the Supreme Court of India just ended a long weekend at the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal on a retreat. They were addressed at this retreat by the President of India who inaugurated it. President Pranab Mukherjee cautioned the judges against judicial activism. 

Ajit Doval
They were also addressed by (among others) Mr Ajit Doval, former RAW officer and currently the National Security Adviser. According to news reports, Ajit Doval in a closed door session demanded more cooperation from the Supreme Court Judges on national security terming it a non-partisan issue. 

According to http://www.livelaw.in/sc-judges-retreat-national-security-advisor-ajit-doval-says-national-security-non-partisan-issue-demands-cooperation-judicial-system/

"Mr. Doval reportedly sought “more cooperation” from the judicial system, in “speeding up” the judicial system, underlining that “national security should be a non-partisan issue”. He shared the idea of an “Indian master plan” to toughen national security, by adopting an “integrated synchronized approach”. 
He further emphasized on the need to view national security as a non-partisan issue, instead of viewing it from a political prism. He also elaborated on the importance of technology, to be employed as a weapon to fight terrorism. 
Dwelling into the link between administration of justice and national security, he pointed out that “delayed justice in terror-related and espionage cases” affects the system. He also listed out a few acts which were having a negative impact on the security systems."

Earlier Human rights lawyers and activists had written to the Chief Justice of India stating that Judges should be exposed to diverse views and that human rights lawyers should also have been invited to address the Supreme Court Judges. 

This is the fourth such retreat for Supreme Court Judges. The last one took place in 2009. See http://www.livelaw.in/supreme-court-judges-retreat-criticism-critical-government-must-also-invited-valid/ for information on earlier retreats. 

While Judges must be well-read, aware of the world they judge in, aware of current domestic and global legal developments and concerns, aware of academic discussions on law, and exposed to diverse views, such retreats are not the best way to deliver this knowledge and understanding to Supreme Court Judges. Supreme Court Judges need to read widely, attend conferences, and keep themselves educated. The problem in India is that Supreme Court Judges are so over-worked that they might not find sufficient time to pursue this knowledge. Some Judges might also not be inclined to actively seek it. 

Coming to Ajit Doval's address to the judges, national security concerns are important but these are also most readily open to misuse by the State to curb dissent and free speech, to restrict fundamental rights and liberties, to crush opposition to its policies, and for a corrupt government to subvert the democratic process. When a national security case comes before the Supreme Court, the Government has more than ample opportunity to place its position before the Court. 

Mr Doval had no business asking for more cooperation from the Supreme Court in a private closed door meeting. What is Ajit Doval's Indian integrated synchronized master plan on national security that he shared with the Judges.? No such plan has yet been shared with the Indian Parliament. What "acts" did Ajit Doval share with the Supreme Court Judges which according to him were having an adverse impact on security systems? 

Mr Ajit Doval's speech to the Supreme Court Judges is dangerous for the independence of the judiciary. It has the tendency to create a bias against and unfairness towards the accused when a national security case comes up before the Supreme Court. How will such accused address the Judges on the Ajit Doval shared knowledge if he/she has no knowledge of it. 

It would be good if all speeches delivered to Supreme Court Judges are recorded and published on the court website in audio and transcript form, so that we all know what our Judges have been told. 

Seema Sapra

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