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Court of Public Opinion – Justice through Public Pressure

Justice

The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Justice has always been thought of paramount importance. Judges have a duty to be impartial and follow the laws while penning down the judgments. In ancient times, it was said that the judge had to take the oath of Vivasana, the son of Yama. By taking this oath, he declared that he would always be just and prudent while imparting justice.  Even the qualities of a judge have been mentioned in our ancient text. A judge should be impartial, steadfast, god-fearing, free from anger, and lead a righteous life. The judges in the present times are endowed with such qualities but at times they get pressurized due to the public.

In the present scenario, we are connected throughout the globe. Just a click and we can reach from the North Pole to the South one. This increasing connectivity has taken a toll on the justice delivering mechanism. The public pressure hampers the whole process of imparting justice and the justice delivered is under public pressure. The road to justice should be straight. But is this the scenario at all times? What are its repercussions?  How to ensure its impartiality? This article tries to delve deeper into all these aspects and explains the concept of justice through public pressure.

Is our Judiciary pressurized?

Public opinion is no doubt essential for a free and fair society. Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution talks about the right to freedom of speech and expression. Every individual has been gifted this indispensable right through which he can express his opinion. The court can hear these opinions but when it tries listening to them, the public opinion turns into public pressure. Certain cases penned down by our judiciary, reflect that yes, somewhere justice is being imparted through public pressure.

In the Young Lawyers Association and Ors. vs. The State of Kerala, popularly known as the Sabarimala case, the apex court gave the historical judgment; it allowed the entry of women in the temple. The women cheered but their happiness was short-lived. The pressure of the Ayappan devotees emerged more powerful than the ‘real justice’. Soon review petitions were filed; the court did not put stay on the final judgment but also did not ensure safety to the women wanting to enter the temple premises. Here the ‘real justice’ justice was burdened under the weight of ‘justice through public pressure.’

The recent bail granted to Arnab Goswami portrayed the ‘power of pressure.’ The court granted him bail preaching the importance of individual freedom and liberty.  The court also referred to a landmark 1977 case to reiterate that the ‘basic rule of our criminal justice system is bail, not jail’. The media reporter being an influential person was backed by public support. The court granted him bail but several other such bails that could have been granted, have not seen the light of the day. The absence of ‘majority’s voice’ is the prima facie reason. The recent protests by the farmers garnered Supreme Court’s attention. The pressure that was being built under the volcano, led to a sudden eruption. Public pressure and the tussle led to the formation of a committee and justice is visible now.

Is Justice through Public Pressure desired?

‘Judiciary should be independent not just from politics but also from public sentiment and judges should deliver justice as per law and not according to the opinion of the majority’, said former Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia. Justice tainted with public pressure is fake justice. The positive theory of law is apt here. According to the theory of positive law, the law should be kept separate from what it ought to be. It studies law as it is and considers morality, sociological aspects, etc. as extra-legal.

Law is the command of the sovereign backed by sanction. If liberty is given, it can be added here that ‘Law is the ‘free’ command of the sovereign backed by sanction.‘ The word ‘free’ removes any ambiguity regarding the command being pressurized. Law and justice though not synonymous sometimes, would not be wrong to say the same regarding justice. We should never make pressure as the ‘means’ to achieve justice as the ‘end’. This is really undesirable.

Protest

Our codes, statutes, and acts are more than sufficient to climb the ‘Everest of justice.’ The rope of pressure is not at all required. Article 142 of the Indian Constitution grants power to the honorable Supreme Court to issue orders and decrees in the favor of the public interest. It also binds the government to follow any such orders when passed. This illustrates that our judiciary is very capable of imparting justice. Similarly, Article 136 of the Indian Constitution endows the Supreme Court with more powers thus ensuring more justice. The court under this article can grant special leave for a previous decision. Article 32 for Supreme Court and Article 226 for High Courts ensure that fundamental rights are not violated and if violated the courts are here to the rescue.

The armor of our courts is already filled with a plethora of ‘protective arrows.’ Introducing ‘public pressure’ as the new arrow will not do anything well. Justice should be free, unbiased, and according to the laws.

Conclusion

‘Public sentiment is a boon as long as it is expressed in talk shows, public discussions, streets as well as educational institutions; but when it enters the courtroom it becomes a bane.’ We all remove the chaff from the wheat before sending it for grinding. The flour that comes as the result is nutritious, healthy as well as consistent. The same analogy can be drawn for justice. Law and justice should be separated from public influence.

The justice thus separated at the initial stage would only emerge as genuine. The recent times have been really tough; the past years have witnessed several historical judgments, some attracted dissent, and the others approval. From the Ayodhya judgment to the Prashant Bhushan case, from the Central vista case to the Aadhar judgment, glimpses of pressure were seen.  It is never too late. It is the duty of the judiciary as well as the citizens to realize the significance of ‘neutral justice.’ After all, Portia has rightly said, The quality of mercy is not strained.

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