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Silence is not an option

Silence is not an option

Author: Soli J Sorabjee
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 5, 2009

The judge must disclose the Minister's name to avoid speculation and prevent politicisation, says Soli J Sorabjee, former Attorney-General of India

A judge declining to hear a case before him is not an uncommon occurrence. It happens when the judge has appeared as counsel for one of the parties involved in the litigation in the past or has family connection with them and he mentions these facts openly in court. At times, the judge does not disclose the reason for refusing to take up the case presumably because one of the parties has tried to approach him directly or indirectly and does not mention the name of the party.

However, when Justice Reghupathy of the Madras High Court stated in open court that there was communication from a Central Cabinet Minister to him in connection with a pending case before him, there is no reason why the name of the Minister should not be disclosed. On the contrary, disclosure would enable initiation of contempt proceedings against the Minister concerned because such an act constitutes gross interference with the administration of justice. In such a situation, silence is not an option.

Disclosure of the name of the Minister is necessary in order to avoid speculation as to the identity of the person and to prevent politicisation of the issue. It is a matter not between the Minister and the judge or the parties before him, but it affects the purity of administration of justice as a whole.

The distressing part is the mindset of some persons, including Ministers that judges can be easily approached for a favourable order in a pending case. Unfortunately, that also reflects on the low image and reputation of the judiciary in certain quarters. Any such attempt on the part of a Minister or any other person, however highly placed, would have been unthinkable and no one would have dared to do so when I commenced practice in the fifties and thereafter. This reprehensible tendency needs to be severely nipped in the bud and those daring to indulge in it deserve condign punishment.

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