Lift veil of secrecy

Disagreement between judges is no longer a hush-hush affair. The whole nation had witnessed judicial acrimony in January last year when four top judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference against the then Chief Justice of India (CJI). Now, judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court zeroed in on the ‘last resort’ of secret ballot to break the deadlock among them. At the root of the dispute is the issue of amending the criterion adopted by the High Court for designating senior advocates. Not for the first time, the judiciary has conveniently donned the veil of secrecy, leaving no room for transparency. No wonder questions are being raised yet again about the legitimacy of such procedures.

The functioning of the Supreme Court collegium, which comprises the CJI and his senior-most colleagues, is a prime example of how the public is kept in the dark. Shrouded in mystery, some of the collegium’s recent decisions have triggered a national outrage, such as the recommendation to elevate two High Court judges to the apex court by superseding dozens of seniors. What’s worse, the initial decision to elevate another judge was reversed. There are several appointments that need greater transparency: a judge’s elevation to the Supreme Court; the criterion adopted for transferring a judge from one court to another; a judge’s appointment as the Chief Justice of a High Court.

The Right to Information Act is almost a decade and a half old, but the judiciary has been slow to embrace much-needed openness. In September last year, the Supreme Court, in a welcome development, had given its nod to live-stream court proceedings with the purpose of bringing more accountability. The pilot project was meant for the final hearing of cases of constitutional and national importance being argued before the Constitution Bench. At that time, Justice DY Chandrachud had famously said: ‘Above all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ The sunlight should also percolate through various layers of the judiciary so that the decisions taken on the administrative side are viewed with complete trust.