The courts have done their bit to uphold the “vision of justice” detailed in the Constitution, but such efforts have not really made a difference on the ground, where it is a “descent into chaos” with messengers being sued, shot, or simply not delivering the message out of fear, justice Ranjan Gogoi said on Thursday.
For the justice system to become more effective, the focus perhaps needs to move to the enforcement of the judiciary’s decisions, said Gogoi, who was delivering the Ramnath Goenka Lecture in New Delhi.
He said he wouldn’t venture to comment on the role of the executive and the legislature in upholding this, but added how it will be an “interesting” and “contentious” story.
He went on to justice, as referenced by the Constitution, as “not something that is a standalone precept but an amalgam of ideas like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few”.
Terming the “vision” and the actual implementation as the “aspirational” and “operational” aspects of the Constitution, justice Gogoi said the courts had always wanted to bridge the gap. Referring to multiple cases, including the NALSA case that recognised the rights of transgenders, he said that both in an “intimate private sphere of life” and in “matters of faith” courts have stuck to the principle that “societal morality is fickle, and not that, but constitutional morality.. ought to dictate terms.”
The above-mentioned cases have become far more contentious than ever before, with, in some cases, local groups and courts taking the law into their own hands. The court is currently hearing a challenge to an antiquated anti-homosexuality law and also the Ayodhya dispute (although it has made it clear that it will treat the latter as a land dispute and not a religious one).
The challenge for the judiciary, justice Gogoi added, is to keep trying to bridge the gap between the “vision of justice” and its implementation.
But there are other challenges as well, he said, including “pendency, arrears, and judges’ strength.” “The judiciary today is not a poor workman who blames his tools, but it is a workman with no tools”. There are other challenges as well. Justice Gogoi was one of four judges who went public in January with their grievances on how the country’s top court is being run and how cases are being allocated.
Without discussing that press conference, justice Gogoi said the judiciary will have to stay independent.
Channelling American founding father Alexander Hamilton, he said civil liberties had nothing to fear from the judiciary alone but could be at risk from the union of the judiciary with either the executive or the legislature.” As India evolves, the judiciary, which is “seen as a course corrector, a leveller, a democratiser of sorts” will also evolve, but it has to stay independent, he added. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”