We Have To Address The Issue Of Freedom Of Speech Together As A Society: Justice Ravindra Bhat
While refraining from making any comment on the recent Supreme Court order keeping in abeyance sedition cases, Supreme Court Judge Justice S. Ravindra Bhat remarked that in a larger sense, the issues around freedom of speech and expression have to be dealt with collectively as a society. Given that the matter remains sub-judice and comment on the subject has political ramifications, Justice Bhat observed,
"There are several branches of law that has the tendency to be misused. Let me take a neutral example of Defamation. However, these have to be dealt with together as a society. Freedom does not come for free. One has to work for it. How are we working for it?"
While responding to queries made satirist Akash Banerjee on several contemporary issues at the launch event of Senior Advocate Sanjay Ghose's book, Justice Bhat discussed the issues surrounding live streaming of court proceedings, frivolous PILs, perception of the judiciary, and its future. He also appreciated Senior Advocate Sanjay Ghose for his book 'How Gourango lost his O. Sharing his thoughts on the book, he remarked,
"The author has underlined the use of archaic lingo that prevails in the legal field. He talks about the tension and the pressure of work the newer lawyers feel each day in the profession. He has captured the sight, smell, and even the taste of being a lawyer through his book."
On being by Banerjee whether the judiciary is aware of and having an active discussion on its' perception in the larger public, Justice Bhat remarked that the judiciary is well aware of the people's perception. However, he noted that, like any other institution, the judges could not come out and issue a clarification. 'They have to speak through their judgements.' he added. Attaching the caveat that he cannot speak for the judiciary as an institution, he further noted that perception does not matter; what matters is the work behind its functioning.
Banerjee then directed the discussion on live-streaming of court proceedings in order for a non-lawyer to have an idea of the inside functioning of a courtroom. Justice Bhat responded by saying that several High Courts have started live-streaming the proceedings while the Supreme Court continues to look into the possibilities. He added that live streaming could have a powerful impact, allowing someone living far from the High Courts to know about court proceedings. However, he cautioned that fragmented reporting from courtroom proceedings could have an exaggerated impact.
On being asked about his take on frivolous PILs reaching the courtroom, like the recent Taj Mahal episode, Justice Bhat remarked that PIL was meant for the most oppressed to be represented by public-spirited people. He noted,
"In matters of PIL, the jurisdiction of the court is based on broad guidelines. Some discretion is left with the courts to decide whether to take up the matter or not. However, this has to be exercised with extreme caution. You cannot bind it down by rules."
Justice Bhat also shed some comments on the constraints in the life of a judge. He noted that the real work of the judges begins in the evening, and the more complex judgments are written during the vacations. "It is a perception that judges have a cushy life, we are also bound by constraints," he added.