Saturday, March 22, 2008

Shanti Bhushan on the passing of another courageous Judge

We've recently been discussing what makes for greatness in a judge on this blog. This post is a continuance of that theme. In a recent tribute to Justice Khanna, Justice Iyer made a passing reference to his own role in the series of events that led to the imposition of an internal Emergency in India in 1975. He did so by narrating how he had, as the vacation judge of the Supreme Court, stayed the judgment of Justice JL Sinha setting aside the election of Indira Gandhi. Today’s Indian Express carries a tribute to Justice JL Sinha who passed away recently at the age of 87, which is authored by the eminent Supreme Court lawyer, and former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan. Here is a sampling of Shanti Bhushan’s views:

In his foreword to the book, The Case that Shook India, Justice Hidayatullah compared Justice Sinha with Judge Sirica of the Watergate case, who was responsible for President Nixon’s downfall. He also complimented Justice Sinha in that foreword saying that his own approach in the Indira Gandhi case, by and large, would have been similar.

Justice Sinha was a judge with the highest integrity, objectivity, ability and judicial rectitude. He had not only set aside the election of Mrs Gandhi on the grounds of corrupt practices but also disqualified her for six years. As his judgment was subject to an appeal to the Supreme Court, he promptly stayed his order as soon as an application was made on behalf of Mrs Gandhi.

His judgment was an act of great courage. This courage was in line with the courage shown later by Justice H R Khanna of the Supreme Court who also died recently. The courage of these two great judges was in clear contrast to the judgment of other judges of the Supreme Court in the ADM Jabalpur case in which four judges of the Supreme Court except Justice Khanna declared that during the Emergency there was no right to life of liberty and even if people were shot illegally, the courts could not intervene.

Several commentators on this blog have reiterated the lament of many scholars over the disturbing paucity of biographies and autobiographies of Indian judges. For now, these short newspaper articles will have to do, but one hopes that the genre of judicial biographies (which has a long history in the US, and is recently being pursued quite aggressively by University Presses in Canada) will be developed by historians and legal scholars in India. Given the pivotal role played by judges of the higher judiciary in constitutional politics in India, the continuing neglect of this genre will only lead to the impoverishment of scholarly analyses of both politics and law in India.

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