Supreme Wisdom: Wolf To Guard Sheep
In apparently a laudable and bold move headlines that 'SC will depute CBI, police officials to curb graft in registry' greet us. The Chief Justice of India has decided to draft in Senior Superintendents of Police and Superintendents of Police from Delhi Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to keep an eye on the Supreme Court staff and check corruption. The police officers are to be on deputation and are to be appointed as Additional Registrars, Deputy Registrars, Branch Officers and Senior Court Assistants in the Supreme Court to check the lawyer- staff nexus.
The practice of 'bench-fixing', that is getting a particular case fixed before a particular bench of the Supreme Court is an allegation raised against Registry of the court Similarly, given the long delays which if anything reflect badly on the judiciary, getting a case speedily listed out of turn is another practice which requires 'skilled' maneuvering in the Registry. The present move after about seventy years of existence of the Apex Court, stems however from the affidavit of a young advocate Bains, who alleged that all powerful fixers were pervasive in the Registry and there was a deep-rooted conspiracy against CJI personally The two court staff that tampered with an order to save industrialist Anil Ambani from personal appearance in Court were dismissed and are being prosecuted and there was no mystery to uncover in the matter.
Recently, the Supreme Court acting on the judicial side appointed a one-man Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, JusticeA.K. Patnaik to unearth the conspiracy and suggest measures taking the assistance of the Intelligence Bureau, Delhi Police and the CBI. It appears synergy of the police agencies and the Commission, unlike many commissions, has borne fruit and led to the unprecedented step of the Executive getting possibly a foothold in the institution.
The police officers to be posted in the Supreme Court will be on deputation to the institution. The parent department remains the police service under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The careers of the officers would be dependent on the superiors in the parent department and their primary loyalty would be to their bosses. The police would love to have influence in the Supreme Court from the lowest to the highest level and make tireless efforts to do favors to judges,At the highest level, it is alleged that the CJI used the police to intimidate the dismissed woman employee who dared to make allegations of sexual harassment. At the lowest level, one may find the police officer attached to the young Magistrate's court offering - 'Sir, do you need help in getting your child admitted in so and so school?' The police has no role to play in school admissions, yet such is the power and influence wielding authority of the police officer in varied locations, that there is no doubting the offer and the ability to get the ward of a judge admitted in a specific school.
The only places where the police are well behaved are the courts. Any ordinary citizen is fearful of police and their intimidating ways. Lawyers too prefer to deal with police in courts. The behavior of police towards even lawyers in a police station is a different cup of tea from that in courts. The police are well behaved in courts due to the authority wielded by the judge. In the longer run, the authority gets undermined by getting favors from the police. Of course, the other side of obliging a judge is the FBI Edgar Hoover approach of getting 'dirt' and having files on everyone.
Landlord-tenant disputes, escalated neighborly squabbles, attempted suicide by loved ones, setting of financial disagreements to intervening in inter gang disputes the Indian police have a vast and diverse experience. Compared to officials with the limited court registry as their domain, many police officers are grand masters of fixing matters and peddling influence with the whole wide world as their playground.
The imagination boggles as to the potential unleashed by bringing in the police in the justice-delivery machinery. One can easily, imagine Official 'A' in the registry, being coerced to get a matter expedited or to list before a specific bench, with the threat of implication as a 'bench-fixer' by the police. The criminal-justice machinery with its slow grinding results in the process as punishment, even if the person is eventually acquitted. The threat of implication in a criminal case would most of us scurry to oblige. The police have a super specialization in human psychology in assessing the quantum of money which can be extracted from an individual. In addition, the experience in dealing with informers makes the police officers also specialists in assessing human greed. The complimentary qualities of being specialists at intimidation, assessing greed and a sharp take on the money which can be extracted from an individual would be big assets in dealings with parties with cases pending in the court.
Individual litigants and cases apart, the Government is the biggest litigant in the Apex Court and would love to have some 'influence' in the matter of benches and the time of hearing of cases. Over time, it is not rocket science to make an intelligent guess as to the approach of a bench to say tax matters, individual liberty or for that matter towards death penalty.
The Constitution has a delicate balance between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The advent and spreading of Public Interest Litigation into each and every sphere has tilted the balance with the judiciary intervening in matters which are clearly in the domain of the other two wings. The periodic lamenting that the judiciary is encroaching in the areas of the legislature and executive is not without basis.
'Give an inch – take a mile' is an adage worth remembering while contemplating a mechanism to prevent 'wrongdoing' and check corruption in the registry, by offering an intimate-insider toehold to the Executive by appointing police officers in the innards of the justice delivery machinery.
(Author is an advocate in Supreme Court of India. He is also member of Indian Association of Family Therapy and Counselor at Delhi High Court Mediation and Reconciliation Center)
Views Are Strictly Personal Only.
Picture Courtesy: Advocate Vikram Hegde