NEW DELHI: Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Saturday flagged a “disturbing new trend” that of criticising and trolling judges, especially on social media.
While Prasad was talking specifically about legal activists who file PILs and make objectionable comments about judges when a favourable order or judgment is not passed, legal experts reckon that ‘agenda-driven’ criticism of judges is indeed becoming a worrying trend.
The latest case in point is Additional Sessions Judge at Delhi’s Patiala House courts Dharmendra Rana, who gave bail to environment activist Disha Ravi and commented that the government should welcome criticism from its citizens. The judge has been getting lots of threats and abuses on social media. A former army officer and a former diplomat are among those who have openly criticised the judge for his views against the government.
“High time we put ‘Milords’ like him in their place! ‘Sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments’. Justice Rana was free to grant bail to Diksha (sic) Ravi, but what business does he have making such an arrogant remark against an elected government?” retired Army officer Harish Puri tweeted. Former diplomat Kanwal Sibal wrote, “Granting Disha bail on merits fine but pomposity? ‘Citizens are conscience keepers of govt’ in any democracy. Does this include citizens who are Maoists, radicals, burn public property, desecrate Red Fort, pelt stones?
‘Wounded vanity of govts’. Sounds judicial or political?” Judge Rana is not the first one who had faced such criticism. Recently, Supreme Court judgments on Rafale deal, Ayodhya and several others faced vicious criticism and fingers were raised at judges, too. Suggesting punitive action against people who criticise judges, and not judgments, especially in high profile cases, legal experts stressed it was time necessary guidelines were put in place so that such trolling of judges can be stopped.
Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, said, “We should not criticise judges as they are human beings and may at time error wrongly interpret law. There can be two interpretations of one provision. While motives need not be attributed to judges and they are not to be criticised, the judgments can be and should be criticised. Fair comments on the judgments made in good faith are good for a democratic society.”
Voicing similar opinion, senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said, “Judgments should be praised or criticised, not the judges. Most of the ill-informed criticism of Judge Rana is because of the sentence that ‘sedition cannot be used to minister to the wounded vanity of governments’. That sentence is a quote from a British judge, ruling in favour of an Indian citizen, against the colonial government in pre-Independence India.
Most ill-informed criticism can and must be shrugged off, but if there is anything particularly vicious, the high court must take preventive or punitive steps at an appropriate time.” A retired Supreme Court judge, who didn’t want to be named, said, “We as judges decide the case only as per its merits, but still receive so much criticism. This is actually a worrying trend, especially for junior judges who have a long career ahead and such criticism hurts their morale.”