Judges Not Perfect Humans But Must Conduct Themselves Consistent With The Aura Of The Chair: Orissa High Court CJ Muralidhar

Jyoti Prakash Dutta

9 Jan 2023 9:30 AM GMT

  • Judges Not Perfect Humans But Must Conduct Themselves Consistent With The Aura Of The Chair: Orissa High Court CJ Muralidhar

    On Saturday, Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar joined in the oath taking ceremony of newly recruited 50 civil judges under the Odisha Judicial Service (OJS). While speaking on the occasion, he gave a number of advices to the young judicial officers and said, there is a decorum for the judicial office. He urged the judges to conduct themselves consistent with...

    On Saturday, Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar joined in the oath taking ceremony of newly recruited 50 civil judges under the Odisha Judicial Service (OJS). While speaking on the occasion, he gave a number of advices to the young judicial officers and said, there is a decorum for the judicial office. He urged the judges to conduct themselves consistent with the ‘aura’ of the judicial chair and with the respect that the chair commands.

    Holding Judicial Office: A Learning Experience

    While beginning the speech, he made reference to ‘aksharabhyasham’, a ceremony in which a child is formally inducted into the literary world. He made an analogy between ‘aksharabhyasham’ and the oath taking ceremony of the Judicial Magistrates.

    “If you look at the entire judiciary, what you stepped into today is that stage of aksharabhyasam, where you are taking the first initial steps of entering this wonderful field. It is the field of learning, the first and foremost. Learning about other people’s lives. Learning about lives of people that may be completely different from yours. And this is a wonderful journey. If you look at it philosophically, every day you will not only learn about other people’s lives but learn of your own and it is also an unravelling of yourself to yourself. So, I think if you wake of every morning anticipating that today I am going to learn something about life, you will find this journey very exciting, very rewarding.”

    Being a Judge: More than a ‘Salaried Job’

    Justice Muralidhar advised the newly inducted magistrates to see their profession from a broad perspective and not from a parochial standpoint of getting a salaried job. He said:

    “Don’t begin this journey with the idea that you have got a job. That is the wrong thing to start with. This is not a job that gives you salary, that is one way of looking at it of course. The salary which is much better than anyone of your peers and it is a job that you strive for and you got. That is one way of looking at it. But that is not the rewarding way of looking at it. Of course, you have struggled hard. You have done well in your studies, exams and interview. Some of us sitting here have interviewed you and you have gone through the test. It is a difficult and arduous process. We appreciate that very deeply. Many of us sitting in this room and including some of your parents have gone through this process of rigorous selection, but what is wonderful about this is the journey of life.”

    Judges Grow as the Judicial System Grows

    He said, though many of his colleagues in the High Court and he himself have joined the Judiciary after spending years in the Bar, but joining it has been a new learning experience. An experience which enables a person to look at things from 360 degrees.

    “Law and justice delivery system has a very humbling effect on the person. Because every day you learn something new and you are able to see things in perspective. This will happen to you. It is inevitable for every judicial officer, for every judge. It is inevitable that we also grow as the system grows, as the system evolves. We are part of the whole process. How you feel today about a certain issue is not the way you will feel about the same two years or five years or ten years down the line. It is happening to judges day in and day out”, the Chief Justice added.

    Judiciary is not an Ideal System

    He urged the civil judges to prepare themselves to accept that they are bound to make mistakes, but what is most important is learning from those mistakes. If they stop to learn from the mistakes, they stop to grow.

    “Nobody is perfect in the system and the system itself is not perfect. The system is not an ideal system. Some rosters you may have will be easy rosters, some will be difficult rosters. Some courts you may handle may be easy courts, some may be very difficult courts. Some courts will have a perfect ambience for you, some court will not have the perfect ambience.”

    Further, he said: “Sometimes you will have colleagues with whom you get along very well and sometimes, you will be in situations when you don’t agree with your colleagues. You may have superiors to you in the system, which is bound to be there as it is a hierarchal system, with whom you have difficulties or you may have people working for you, whose work you supervise, who may cause difficulties. But importantly, you should be aware that you yourself may be the cause for the difficulty.”

    Having said the above, he however admitted and acknowledged that judicial system is a very ‘humane system’.

    Lesson from Senior Advocate K.G. Kannabiran

    The Chief Justice remembered the words of K.G. Kannabiran, a legendary human rights activist and senior advocate from the Andhra Pradesh High Court and said:

    “One thing will change in your life when you sit in the court on the dais is that you will suddenly find many people who are deferential to you. What you need to understand and this is what a senior advocate Mr. Kannabiran, who is no longer with us, reminded many of us that when a person enters the court and bows, he is not bowing to you as the person, [rather] he is bowing to the chair, the chair of justice.”

    He stressed that judicial officers must conduct themselves in a very dignified manner, which is in line with the high dignity that the office commands.

    “There is a decorum for that chair and there is certain respect that the chair commands and we must conduct ourselves consistent with the aura of that chair, with the respect that the chair commands. So, when people bow to you and are deferential to you, they are deferential to the seat that you hold. They may not be deferential to you as a person”, he further added.

    With Judicial Power Comes Great Responsibility

    Highlighting the common tendency among judicial officers to get ego of the position they hold, he advised:

    “We all get into the problems of ego, thinking that we are very smart, we are more powerful, then we make this fundamental error of thinking we are the power and we are the seat. This is something that you have to remind yourselves constantly. Because this is going to change. You suddenly have people bowing to you. You will have ten others working for you who are very deferential to you. Who will not speak against you. Who will keep listening to all that you have to say and you should not let it affect you as a person.”

    He underlined the importance of judicial officers behaving well with people around them and working under them.

    “You issue a summons to a police officer; he is bound to appear before you. If you start it doing too often, problem will arise. How you behave with people around you and working for you, that is again very important. Of course, you have the power to get them suspended or dismissed or get them transferred. You will suddenly find; you have these kinds of powers. With judicial power comes great judicial responsibility. I will only give this advice that this judicial power that you will begin to have, use it effectively in court proceedings while deciding cases. The minute you start using it outside the court proceedings, including your own personal lives or the way you deal with subordinates, you will see a lot of problems arising.

    Anecdote of Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman

    He merrily remarked that people respect judges a lot in the society even today. They treat judges differently. To explain the perception of common people towards judges, he cited an anecdote of Fali Sam Nariman, the veteran Senior Advocate.

    “This is narrated none other than by Fali Nariman, the great doyen of the Bar and senior advocate. Fali Nariman, in 1972, was appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India, which is very great recognition of a person’s ability and talent as a lawyer. He went to his grandmother and told her, “you know, I have a very good news. I have been appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India.” She said, “oh, it is a very good news. But I am waiting for the day you will be appointed as a Magistrate. [This triggered a good laugh from the audience.]

    Expectations of People from Judges

    The Chief Justice said that it is the common man’s perception that being a judge still something that commands a lot of respect. From their point of view, once a person is a judge, they expect him/her to be fair. It is the responsibility that the newly appointed judicial officer will begin to have.

    “If you are travelling in a train or [sitting] in an airport lounge, they suddenly ask you who you are, what do you do and if somebody will see you are a judge, you will find them talking to you about the legal system, about the problems they are facing in court and they will expect you to know the answers and will expect you to be very fair. They expect you to be well-mannered, well-tempered person. They don’t expect you to be rash, they don’t expect you to get angry or get very sad. These are all expectations people have. Living up to the expectations is the tough job.”

    He said that how a judge conducts himself/herself in the public is another challenge and the civil judges will have such lectures in judicial academy as to how to restrain themselves and how not to expose themselves too much. He further stated that the young judicial officers symbolize the entire judiciary. People will look at them to find out how the Odisha Judiciary functions.

    Judicial Officers to Learn from Bar

    The Chief Justice told the officers that they will get to learn a lot from the lawyers, provided they are ready to learn.

    “Look around you and look for the best practices. Many around you and many of us are not perfect human beings. We have our own predilections, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses. That is one thing the Bar will expose you to. I don’t know how many of you have the experiences in the Bar. In fact, it is something that worries some of us that some of you are so young and you hadn’t enough exposure at the Bar. You may not know how to handle the Bar. But you will learn. Lawyers will teach you a lot of things, provided you are prepared to learn.”

    Justice Muralidhar conveyed the judicial officers that not many lawyers in Odisha are doing very well economically. Many lawyers do not even make enough to earn a decent sum on a monthly basis. Whereas, he said, the judicial officers are very young and hardly any of them are even 30-year-old. So, they will find a gap between lawyers appearing before them and themselves. It could be a cultural gap or status gap.

    “Lawyers will come with all kinds of predilections. They will try to be aggressive. They will find you very young and they will try to overpower you. But how you conduct yourself in the most dignified manner will communicate to the lawyer, who may be aggressive, who you are. Lawyers have a way of teaching you about the Bar, the case and the law, both the right things and wrong things. You have to learn to choose what you will believe. As you assess the lawyer, the lawyer is also assessing you.”

    “Judge is on Trial”

    He quoted the words of Justice J.R. Midha, a retired Judge and his former colleague in the Delhi High Court, who in 2021 while delivering his farewell speech had famously remarked, “In the Court of Justice, both the parties know the truth. It is the judge who is on trial. Chief Justice Muralidhar expressed his partial agreement to the above statement. He said:

    “Initially, the lawyers are sizing you up. The lawyers will immediately find out what is it that makes you happy, what is that which irritates you and what are your weaknesses… How equanimous you are, what is your state of mind, how you conduct yourself, your body-language, everything is on display. You are sitting there on the dais. You become an open book for people to read, to analyse and to study. You cannot help that. But how you prepare yourself for that exercise is very important.”

    Maintaining the Composure

    He focussed on three well-beings of judges, i.e. physical, mental and emotional. He said, a lawyer will come in and argue the case, go out and vent his frustration or enjoy the success. But the judge does not have that luxury.

    “This has been a well-argued case. You think you have done justice. Next case is a very badly argued case. You have lost your cool. The third case, you have not understood what is being argued. There is no option to just get up after a case, disappear for an hour and come back. Because case after case is going to be called out and you have to start dealing with it one after the other. This is what all the training in the academy is going to be about and your life as a judge is going to be about maintaining the composure…You could have many personal issues in life in your family but once you sit in court, you are supposed to drop all that. That is the challenge. That is the real challenge.”

    Handling the Internal Self

    The Chief Justice was of the view that one can handle external fear. But the real difficulty is to have a command over the internal self.

    “Somebody is threatening you. You will tell the District Judge. He will tell the High Court. The Police will be told. External threats can be dealt with. Somebody is trying to extend you a favour. You will recuse from the case, saying somebody has approached me or you will report it. But all your internal predilections, only you know. The other person does not know it. It is very important to come out of internal predilections.

    He pointed out another challenge, i.e. not to allow the bad argument of a lawyer to spoil a good case of his innocent client. He said, it is a common challenge that even the Judges of the High Court face.

    “Have a smiling face, have a calm demeanour but do justice in that case. Because it is ultimately you are not doing justice to the lawyer. You have to go beyond that for which you must be in command of the law and the facts which is why prepare before you enter the court. If you have time, go through the papers before you enter the court. After some time, if you are in the same rosters, patterns will emerge. But you will be one up. You will not allow the lawyer to mislead you if you just familiarise with the case before the case is presented to you. Familiarize yourself with the law.”

    Admiration for Judge Frank Caprio

    The Chief Justice made a reference to Frank Caprio, Chief Judge of the Municipal Court of Providence in Rhode Island, United States. Notably, the Judge is quite popular over social media, particularly over YouTube, where his court-proceedings are regularly uploaded. The way he conducts his court has attracted appreciations from jurists world over.

    “You will get a lot of his hearing on YouTube. His court is live-streamed and he deals with very petty offences, traffic offences and those kinds of things. Just see how he conducts the court. It is remarkable. How he makes eye-contact with people before him. How he asks questions to elicit the character of a person, the social standing of a person, the circumstances surrounding a person. Everybody is not a criminal. Somebody is accused of a crime. This distinction between a person accused of a crime or charged with a crime and a criminal, you will get to know those distinctions if you watch these proceedings.”

    Empathy for Litigants

    He highlighted that 80% of the population of those entering the courts in Odisha are the economically weaker section or socially weaker section.

    “You will have very innocent tribals accused of very grave crimes coming up before you. They may be witnesses, victims or may be accused. How do you deal with them? How much do you know about Odisha? You have grown up in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack or Berhampur. How much do you know about Nuapada or Nabarangpur or Keonjhar? How do you know about the populations there in Malkangiri?”

    Malkangiri District & The Myth Of ‘Punishment Postings’

    He also talked about the common jargons prevalent in district judiciary, i.e. ‘good postings’, ‘bad postings’ and ‘punishment postings’. He categorically negated the prevalent perception that if a judicial officer gets a posting in the district of Malkangiri, it is essentially a ‘punishment posting’.

    “In judiciary again, there is no difficult posting and there is no easy posting. You will find all this jargon when you talk to your seniors. They will say, “Oh, you have been transferred to Malkangiri. Very sad.” Nothing sad. Absolutely nothing sad about going to Malkangiri. When you go to Malkangiri, you will say, “My God! I didn’t know this is Odisha. Apart from of course being beautiful location… I don’t know how many of you have been to Malkangiri. I have been fortunate to go there. But people, you will get to see people who lead different lives, who live life very close to nature. Suddenly, you will find that they are far more sensible than we urbanites in cities. They have sorted out their lives. They know how to live with nature. You don’t know how to live with the nature.”

    Discipline & Managerial Skills

    He reminded the young officers that their lives will have to be very disciplined. He advised them to take each posting and each task that is allotted to them as an opportunity.

    “Every challenge is an opportunity. Just like there is no good case or bad case, there is no good posting or bad posting. Everything is an opportunity to learn. Everything is an opportunity to grow. If you have that attitude, you will enjoy your period as a judge. Accept your infallibilities but learn from them. Improve and look for the best practices around you and see how can you go forward as a judge.”

    Highlighting a bit more on the importance of a disciplined life in judiciary, the Chief Justice said:

    “You will also have to combine many tasks. You will have to do managerial tasks at very personal level. I talked to you about personal discipline. Unless you are disciplined, you don’t come to court on time and you don’t sit on the dais at the allotted hours, your staff will get undisciplined. People working for you will be undisciplined. If you are disciplined, if you come on time, your staff will be on time. If you do your work sincerely, the staff is bound to do its works sincerely. That is how the system works. They look to the boss.”

    He asked the newly recruited magistrates to think on ways to encourage their staff to enhance their productivity.

    “…find out how to encourage them to work better, how to incentivize them like sitting with them and having a cup of tea once a month. Just talk to your staff. Make them feel easy. Make them want to work for you and not running away from you. Some of them, you can see, are running away from you. Either they are scared of you or they find you too impossible to handle. Unless they work for you, you cannot work well.”

    He also informed them that they will also be required to assist the judicial system on the administrative side, which will bring different tasks to the fore.

    “You will be a Secretary of Legal Services Authority. Again, different tasks. You have to reorient yourself all the times… So, it is not just about being a judge but it is the frame of mind of a student. That is the best way to be. Because the world is out there rich in its offerings. What you choose to pick and follow is entirely in your hands. Look for the best practices. Follow those best practices and keep your balance all the time.”

    Concluding Words

    At the end, he congratulated the newly inducted magistrates and their parents for the success and remarked:

    “This is the beginning. It is a wonderful journey. It is a good time to be in Odisha Judiciary. A lot of things are happening. A lot of changes are happening. Technology is being used in a big way. Societies are growing differently. There are newer challenges before society and the closer you are connected with the society, the better you will be in a position to handle those challenges. People are going to come into court with their problems. They must go away from the court feeling less burdened about their problems… At least, from your point of view, try your best to make your court a welcoming place and a place where people don’t feel negative because of the court itself, about the way the judge behaves, about the way the staff behaves. These are all irritants. We have various ways of mitigating these things and let us do that.”

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