Who Are Our Judges? Assessing the Information Disclosure Practice of Indian Supreme Court Judges

Ed Note: As part of our New Scholarship Section, we have been inviting discussants to respond to specific articles. This is part of a series of posts discussing the public law themed research articles featured in Volume 9 of the Indian Journal of Constitutional Law. You can access all the posts in this discussion here . In this piece, Rangin Tripathy and Chandni Kaur Bagga introduce the arguments they make in their research article titled “Who Are Our Judges? Assessing the Information Disclosure Practice of Indian Supreme Court Judges”.

In October 2019, J. Arun Mishra was in a constitution bench to review one of his own decisions. When he was requested to recuse on the ground that he may be biased of predisposition, he declined in flat terms and asserted that he does not ‘get influenced by anything on earth’.  He went on to observe he will recuse himself from hearing the case only if he himself is satisfied about his bias.

In April 2019, J. N.V. Rmanna was a member of the in-house committee to inquire into the allegations of sexual harassment against J. Ranjan Gogoi, then the Chief Justice of India. He was requested to recuse as he supposedly shared a close personal relationship with J. Gogoi. While J. Ramanna did recuse, his response to the request was dripping with indignation. He was seemingly repulsed by the idea that his impartiality could be doubted.

Our paper examines this unflinching expectation of judges that they should be trusted absolutely and whether they make an effort to earn that trust. While there may be different yardsticks to measure the effort, we have focused on the practice of voluntary information disclosure by judges through their profile pages in the Supreme Court website to assess the nature and degree of information judges are willing to share about themselves with the public who are expected to repose trust in the unfailing integrity of judges. This yardstick was based on the simple and settled proposition that people are more likely to trust functionaries they know more about.

We make three methodical choices. Firstly, we reject the idea that the public can form an opinion about judges from judgements. This idea skirts the reality that only a tiny portion of the population is even capable of developing the skill and devoting the time to analyze verbose judgements of the court. Secondly, we exclude information about judges available in scholarly work as the common public rarely has access to such niche work. Thirdly, we settled upon a minimalist threshold in terms of the information we expected the judges to share. We wanted to know if the judges are sharing the least that may be expected of them about their educational and professional life. Thus, we did not take into account if judges have declared their assets and liabilities or not.

We found that judges are extremely secretive even about innocuous information. The extent of this attitude is reflected in the fact that more than 50% of the judges do not even disclose the details of institution from which they graduated with the qualifying law degree. Judges are cagier about sharing professional details compared to their educational background. The apathy of the judges is so severe that even months after assuming office, several judges had not even uploaded their profile and their profile page was completely blank.

This attitude of judges about sharing their own details sits uncomfortably with repeated righteous pronouncements from the court regarding the rights of voters to be informed about the background of electoral candidates. While the judges are categorical that the public ought to be have information on the background of electoral candidates in order to make an informed decision, they have adopted a policy of secrecy and evasion in terms of their own background and yet expect the uninformed public to repose their faith in the personal integrity of judges.

We conclude with the obvious proposition that it is the duty of the public functionaries to earn public trust instead of believing that they are entitled to it. In light of this, we find that the expectation of judges that they be trusted in an insincere demand on the public.

 

Rangin completed his Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship from Harvard Law School (2019-20) and currently teaches at National Law University Odisha. His research primarily focuses on issues related constitutional governance and civil liberties.

Chandni Kaur Bagga

Chandni has done her LL.M in Constitutional Law in and her B.A., LL.B. (Honours) in Criminal Law in 2017 and 2014 respectively from National Law University Odisha. She is currently pursuing her Doctoral Degree from NALSAR University of Law. Her areas of interest are Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Women Centric Laws and child rights. 

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