Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chief Justice

Via BBC, New Indian chief justice sworn in

Do we know anything at all about this man? Who is he and why is he ascending to such a powerful position?

We'd even venture to suggest many Indians know more about the new US chief justice (given the public scrutiny he went through) than we do about our own.

Shouldn't this bother us?


libertarian said...

PR, I don't think it's such a big deal. In India, the CJ's have a definite and a short term - Sabharwal is on till Jan 2007. US appointments are for life.

Badri said...

Except during Indira Gandhi's time (I think), chief justices in India are selected in a non-controversial manner, purely on seniority, and without anyone superceding anyone else. This has even resulted in some chief justices staying in power for couple of months at the most. As Liberatarian pointed out, the retirement age is fixed.

The cabinet proposes a name, president accpets (or protests), and that is it. Sabharwal has been a senior Supreme Court Judge who has participated in pretty much all the important benches constituted recently.

We hardly know anything about the judges in India because they do not speak out on their views. The outgoing Chief Justice RC Lahoti talked about the need to continue with capital punishment only after he retired... We will know Sabharwal's views when he retires...

Jaffna said...


Justice Sabharwal has made a few statements to the effect that while he is not in favor of the death penalty, these were his private views. He pledged to uphold the provisions of the Indian penal code when it came to the death sentence and remarked that the legislature alone could revoke capital punishment.

He had remarked on another occasion that corruption in the senior judiciary was minimal, a point that several would contest. It would be useful to review the history of past judicial rulings of incoming chief justices. Sabharwal had made a land mark ruling on the dissolution of the Bihar legislature last month. He chose not to rescind the order for state elections which would have sent a strong message to the executive at the center that the latter's discretion to dissolve a state legislature for narrow partisan purposes would be limited henceforth. He may have been nervous of stepping into the executive domain in this regard given the division of powers.

Primary Red's point is valid. The Indian media needs to scrutinize the judicial track record of senior judges more often. This said, the vibrant US record of public/legislative scrutiny of judicial nominees is somewhat exceptional by Asian standards. It has probably something to do with the need for Senate confirmation of senior judicial appointments by the President and the nature of American lobbying.

Nitin said...

I tend to agree with Badri. While do not know the political inclinations of the new CJ, what we certainly know is that he has years of experience as a senior judge; which can be taken to be a reasonable proxy for experience and expertise for the top job. While the American system does allow merit to triumph over seniority, it comes with the risk of putting an unknown quantity as a key guardian of the constitution.

More than a wholesale change in the way India appoints judges, I think there is a need for greater reporting of judgements. Especially in the regional language press.

Anonymous said...

I'd go with PR and Jaffna on this one. The media needs to scrutinize Judges as much as it scrutinizes Parlimentarians and other people. The RTI act might help in this one.

(And hopefully that might also lead to a scrutiny of bureaucrats!)

The constitution should take precendence over all, but in judgements where the law is not clear, personal views *are* going to take precendence.

There was an article on rediff by the ex-Chief Economic Advisor to the Govt. of India, where, he said (in his personal view) that India was nowhere going to match China's economy, or is recent economic growth. The whole article was an excercise on the same.

So personal views do matter. For they inevitably influence decisions, except where there are clear choices

reformist_muslim said...

I think overall scrutiny of the judiciary depends very much on the nation's constitutional arrangements.

In the U.S where judges have the right to strike down legislation, it is important that there is intense scrutiny of their appointments by both the legislature and the media.

On the other hand, in the U.K where judges have less power, this is not so important. A very small proportion of Brits know for instance who the Senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham is and in fact their are advantages that the judiciary is not politicised.

As I'm not familiar with India's constitutional arrangments I can't make a final judgement but I will say that there isn't necessarily a link between scrutiny of judges and a functioning liberal democracy.

sv said...

It should bother us. More indians blogged about london blasts than delhi blasts.

Anonymous said...

Hindians and Hindus can never bring things to table , they enjoy the Hidden pleasure of things.

How can you expect any kind of openness in this Hindu society?

The religion and the practices are flawed. I did not say anything about faith!!

Anonymous said...


You mention that the Hindu religion and practices are flawed. We can contest your opinion. First of all, you are off topic. But anyway, many would say that other religions are just as flawed and erroneous. Regardless, India has a far better record on religious tolerance than any of its bigoted neighbors.

history_lover said...

Thankfully the appointment of judges in India does not (usually) lead to controversy and politics


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