Speaking Truth To Power, Transparency, Diversity — Time For CJI Chandrachud To Walk The Talk
A champion of progressive ideals, Justice DY Chandrachud's term as CJI begins. Here's a look at the causes he supports.
In 2018, Justice DY Chandrachud was part of a bench of the Supreme Court, which held that in principle there could be no ground to not livestream court proceedings. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," reasoned Justice Chandrachud, in the judgment that he had authored.
Long before online court hearings became a norm during the Covid-19 pandemic and court proceedings were livestreamed on YouTube, Justice Chandrachud—along with the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanvilkar—had laid the ideological foundation for citizens to get a glimpse of the higher judiciary's functioning.
In a court system, where even lawyers need proximity cards to access the main building, this was viewed as a radical idea.
Fast forward to 2022, Justice Chandrachud as Chief Justice of India presides over an apex court, whose proceedings are more accessible to the common citizenry than ever.
His tenure will be two years, making him the longest serving Chief Justice in a decade.
That has naturally led to both hope and speculation about what the CJI Chandrachud-years are going to be all about.
As his term begins, here's a look at the causes he supports:
Speaking Truth To Power
On Wednesday, as Chief Justice Chandrachud was about to ascend the stairs of the Supreme Court's main building, he made a rare stop to garland the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
It reminds one of the time when he spoke with much fervour on the importance of truth in the functioning of a democracy, and the role that courts can play in it.
In 2021, while delivering a lecture on “Speaking Truth to Power: Citizens and the Law”, on the occasion of the Justice MC Chagla Memorial Lecture, he spoke on the need to tell the truth to power in a democracy.
"Truth also plays an important role in creating a shared “public memory”, upon which the foundations of a nation can be built in the future. It is because of this reason that many countries opt to establish Truth Commissions immediately upon gaining independence from a totalitarian regime or after coming out of a period fraught with human rights violations."
These commissions function to document, record and acknowledge the “truth” of earlier regimes and violations for future generations, so as to not only provide catharsis to the survivors but also prevent any possibility of denial in the future, he had said.
In a different context, this role can also be played by courts, which have the ability to document information from all the parties involved, after due process has been followed. In the suo motu cognizance of the Covid-19 pandemic taken by our Supreme Court, we have acknowledged this very role in the context of the pandemic.Justice Chandrachud, Justice MC Chagla Memorial Lecture, 2021
One issue that CJI Chandrachud has perhaps been most vocal about is the collegium system, through which judges are appointed and transferred. It's perhaps the biggest issue on which the government and judiciary hasn't been on the same page.
In 2014, the newly elected Narendra Modi government had proposed the creation of National Judicial Appointments Commission, after passing the relevant legislation in the Parliament with a nearly unanimous majority. Soon after, the apex court had set aside the constitutional amendment.
In 2019, when the apex court held that the Office of the Chief Justice of India is a "public authority" under the Right to Information Act, CJI Chandrachud chose to write a concurring but separate opinion.
The basis for the selection and appointment of judges to the higher judiciary must be defined and placed in the public realm, his judgment read.
In significant respects, the collegium is a victim of its own birth-pangs. There can be no denying the fact that there is a vital element of public interest in knowing about the norms, which are taken into consideration in selecting candidates for higher judicial office and making judicial appointments.Justice Chandrachud in Central Public Information Officer vs. Subhash Chandra Agarwal case
Just a day after taking over as CJI, he expressed a similar view in an interview to the Indian Express.
"While we work our way within the fold of that system, there are several improvements which we can bring about because no institution in any constitutional democracy can claim to being perfect. When there is a critique of the way the Collegium functions, we have to look at it in a positive light. I don’t think this reflects the criticism of the judiciary as a whole as such."
An Inclusive Judiciary
CJI Chandrachud, through his public speeches and judgements, has advocated for making institutions more inclusive on all fronts—class, caste, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
Just two months ago, speaking at IIT Delhi, while delivering the inaugural talk for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Justice Chandrachud had emphasised the value of inclusion.
Diversity is a virtue, it has an intrinsic worth in itself, and it furthers our understanding of fairness and social justice. It was a diverse student population of IITs, who in their resilience and fortitude challenged the Section 377 of Indian Penal Code in our courts.Justice Chandrachud at an IIT Delhi Event
"Diversity leads to positive outcomes in terms of making better scholars, thinkers and citizens. Innovation in science occurs when someone has the courage to ask different questions, look at the problem from different perspectives and gain new insights. Diversity results in innovative thinking and decision making and richness in the originality of scholarly thought," he had said.
In August, while addressing students of the Gujarat National Law University, he had urged young professionals to be alive to experiences of marginalised groups in society.
"The belief that marginalised communities must adhere to dominant cultural norms to receive respect has received a fair amount of criticism. As Iris Young discusses, cultural imperialism is one of the phases of oppression, faced by marginalised groups, and she notes how the dominant culture will always define such groups as deviant, and would fail to represent the group's experiences, regardless of the manner in which the group may behave," he had said.
In other words, respectability politics may sometimes, even lead to further marginalisation of sub-groups. Remember to not confuse law and justice, a lot of work which leads to achieving justice within law also happens outside the law. In terms of social movements, shaping politics, and cultural understanding.Justice Chandrachud at the GNLU Convocation
"In our own context, we do not have to look too far to decipher the difference between law and justice. It was only in 2005 that women were granted interest in coparcenary property," Justice Chandrachud had highlighted.