Courts should be open to public scrutiny, criticism, says Supreme Court docket lawyer Harish Salve

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Courts must be open to public scrutiny, criticism, says Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve

AHMEDABAD: Supreme Court attorney Harish Salve said the courts should be publicly scrutinized and criticized as “institutions of governance”. At a lecture organized by videoconference in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Salve said criticism of judges, violations of justice and the way courts work should not be scandalized and the language in which such criticism is addressed should be treated with a grin.

“We have accepted today that judges, or rather courts and especially constitutional courts, have become institutions of governance. As an institution of governance, it must be exposed to public scrutiny and public criticism,” he said.

“We have always accepted that the decisions of courts can be criticized, even in a language that can be rude. This is how the decisions can be criticized. Can we criticize the decision-making process? Why not?” Salve said.

He spoke before the 16th Justice PD Desai commemorative lecture on the criticism of the judiciary, the contempt for the judiciary and its use in the age of social media.

“Governance needs to be under the sharp sunlight … I think there may come a time when the Supreme Court can seriously consider a very large number of provisions of the Official Secrets Act. How are they in line with democracy?” he said.

Most of them are no longer in use, said Salve, who was appointed Queens Counsel for the Courts of England and Wales last year.

To say that an institution has lost its independence, to say that an institution is acting at the behest of someone to allege corruption – that, if it turns out to be not true, clearly undermines public trust, Salve added.

“That rest of the power to deal with those who are able to influence public opinion … They can be in public life, influencers.

“These are cases where the courts need to keep this lean jurisdiction to fix breaks in public belief that may be caused,” he said.

Salve went on to say, “If we need the principles of contempt, where do we draw the line?”

The lines must be drawn so that the overall system of governance – the institutions and the criticism of the institutions – helps everyone move forward on this march of democracy.

“There is one area where I believe judges must be protected. In this area an institution is being considered in accordance with its character as an independent institution,” said the former Indian attorney general.

He said courts don’t have to heed tweets from those who have nothing better to do than sit with a phone in hand and pass judgments, especially about things they don’t understand.

At the same time, criticism from a politician or those who can influence public opinion raises another problem, he said.

These are the cases “where the courts have to keep this lean jurisdiction to clean up any breaks in public belief that might be caused,” he said.

He also said the bar association needs to tackle criticism from judges and courts and deal with ill-informed criticism as part of the system.