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Justice Kurian Joseph - A candid interview that raises more questions than it answers

The retired SC judge refused to give a specific answer to a politically sensitive issue, but insisted that “things improved” under the previous CJI after the press conference.

 |  5-minute read |   05-12-2018
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Looking back at the ‘judges press conference’ in January this year, justice Kurian Joseph, newly retired from the Supreme court of India credits the unprecedented and controversial move to the “changes” in the working of the Supreme Court.

In an interview to India Today post retirement, Justice Joseph insisted that opening the so far closeted issues to the “court of public opinion” and the media storm generated by the thinly veiled allusions to “biases” in the judiciary led to a “marked improvement”.

conference-690_120518120608.jpgFour Supreme Court judges had held a press conference in January, sparking a crisis at the Supreme Court. (Source: PTI)

According to Justice Joseph, former CJI Dipak Misra, who was the target of the ire of the SC collegium, began to improve on "the interaction, discussion and sharing of inputs," with the senior judges on the bench, after the dirty linen was washed in public.

Since mid-2017, the Supreme Court has weathered multiple storms, some brewed by differences with the government and some by the differences of opinion between the judges themselves.

In January, the then four senior most judges — Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi (now CJI), Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph had told the country that “democracy was in danger” and they had decided to call the press conference “to discharge their debt to the nation” by highlighting issues that were, according to them, affecting the working of the judiciary.

"There was a perception at that time that the Chief justice of India was not taking his decisions independently. There was some perception that there were external influences, I don't know from what source but it was seen like that. So we wanted that he should clear the issue. We said you should take conscious decision to change that perception," Joseph told India Today, just a day after he told another media house that the “then CJI was being remote-controlled”.

What his lordship is steadfastly refusing to answer, however, is just which hand was this ‘remote control’ held in, and how have things changed?

Long time court watchers say that the roster system, which was the most highlighted bone of contention in the press conference, is still under the control of the CJI, as it always was.

kurian-690_120518120337.jpgJustice Kurian Joseph, who has retired from the Supreme Court, said the press conference helped bring positive changes in the apex court. (Source: PTI)

The press briefing in fact was followed by two separate judgments from the Supreme Court where the CJI's position as the "master of the roster", who is not obliged to consult anyone, was reiterated. With the man at the helm now changed, various ‘big reforms’ are said to be in the pipeline, but the media and the people don't yet know what is in the offing.

The not-so-veiled attack on the BJP government has however created a political storm, with the Opposition parties asking the government to answer to the allegations, and questions being raised towards Joseph himself, seeking reasons behind the shocking allegations.

True to his status as a Supreme Court judge, Justice Joseph has refused to give a specific answer to a politically sensitive issue, but insisted that “things improved” under the previous CJI after the press conference, and have been improving under the new CJI, who has “big plans for the judiciary, particularly with regard to its purity”.

Outspoken and savvy, Justice Joseph has been at the forefront of the dust up in the Supreme Court over the past year. When the government held up appointments of two judges to the Supreme Court, Justice Joseph wrote to all judges on the bench, exhorting the CJI to “take a stand”, claiming that the “very life and existence” of the Supreme Court is under threat and “history will not pardon us,” if the court doesn’t respond to the government’s unprecedented act of sitting on the collegium’s recommendation.

Speaking to the media on November 30 at his residence, Justice Joseph had said, “There is no political pressure on judicial exercise of powers. But the interference in appointments of judges, transfer of judges, and delay in clearing files… that is the interference in judiciary.”

Even in the post-retirement interview to this reporter, Justice Joseph pointed to the recent instance where the appointment of four judges to the apex court were cleared within 48 hours, an event which led even CJI Ranjan Gogoi to express “shock and awe” at the speed at which the decision was taken.

sc-690_120518120953.jpgThe general public is largely unaware about what exactly is happening in the Supreme Court. (Source: PTI)

In the India Today interview, Justice Joseph pointed out that "the speed with which the government cleared certain names shows that if they want they can clear it.”

Given the fact that corridor gossip places at least two of the recently appointed judges “close” to certain persons in the upper echelons of power, can it really be said that “political interference” is no longer alive and kicking?

Another tantalising titbit of the allegations raised by Joseph in his interview to this reporter has been that the ‘machinery’ for investigation against judges “is not put in place at the right time, by the right person and in the right place”.

As this statement was made in response to a direct question regarding the various allegations of sexual harassment and corruption that were raised against judges, it does give rise to even more questions.

Like, when a recently retired judge candidly admits that all is not well, but “steps are being taken,” what does it actually mean for the people of the country who have been watching the rising tide of questions with no answers in sight?

How long do we wait for someone to explain what is going on behind the opaque wall of “dignity of the court”?

Also read: Live streaming of SC cases: Justice must be seen to be done, and now, we can all watch it

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Aneesha Mathur Aneesha Mathur @aneeshamathur

Author is a special correspondent with India Today TV.

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