Senior advocate Harish Salve appeared on a webinar on Saturday to discuss the attacks that are made to undermine the authority of the judiciary. In this context, he discussed numerous issues and spoke on the kind of criticism that is permissible and that which is not. The webinar was hosted by the CAN Foundation.
Harish Salve subtly chided ‘activist’ Harsh Mander who was spotted during the recent spate of violence in the country inciting Muslims against the Indian State. He did not take any names but the implication was obvious. He said, “There are several people who criticize the Supreme Court, the stature of judges and say that they won’t yield justice and then they come to Court the next day. Should the Supreme Court support them? It is better to ignore these people and not give them importance but there is a need to establish a conduct and calls for introspection.”
“An article by an Indian said the Indian judiciary is hopeless, only the international judiciary can do something. This is crossing the boundaries and over stepping the liberty of expression and free speech. Criticism on grounds of its judgment or for not taking proper action is admissible but to say that the Court is doing or not doing a particular thing to please the government is immoral. People have gotten used to using the court for their agenda and rather than criticising the judgement, they criticise the institution,” added the senior advocate.
During the interview, Harish Salve said that he had recommended the government to form a tribunal for private defamation. He lamented the fact that defamation cases in India take a long long time to complete and gave the example of the United Kingdom where such cases are fast-tracked. In this context, the senior advocate referred to an incident involving ‘PIL activist’ Prashant Bhushan.
Harish Salve said that Prashant Bhushan had made “derogatory comments” against Justice Kapadia which had led to the Justice expressing “anguish” in court nu the Attorney General had not done anything. As an amicus, Harish Salve had moved a contempt case in the matter. However, Justice Kapadia has passed away since then but the case is still pending.
Thye senior advocate also said that while ‘trollers’ can be ignored, people with an influence over public opinion such as activists and those holding government positions who have the capability to mobilise public opinion must be dealt with carefully. In this context, he referred to a recent judgement in Andhra Pradesh where a certain verdict had gone against the ruling party. He opined that calling the judges casteist was not correct.
“You can criticize a Judgment saying the Judge has taken a conservative line, you can say court is not robust, you can say that they don’t want to take deference with the executive but you can’t say that the judges or a particular is scared to take on the government and personally attack the stature of the judge. That is absolutely wrong and immoral,” said Harish Salve.
The senior advocate reserved scathing remarks for media trials. In recent years, we have seen numerous instances where the media takes upon itself the mantle of judge, jury and executioner. Harish Salve said, “Why do we say that in the currency of the trial, there should not be any media trial? It is not because the judges will get influenced, but, because by doing such media trials you undermine the real trial. If we do nothing about this growing menace, it will become a major problem.”
He continued, “Many people come to court with a certain agenda of shaming the government. If the judge doesn’t rule in their favour, they criticise the judge for being dishonest. The judge has taken an oath of honesty and acting without fear, but due to the media pressure he’s under the constant fear of public opinion.” Harish Salve also said that if ‘social media diatribe’ goes unchecked, “20 years down the line we may not have courts left to practice in”.
Harish Salve also slammed NDTV news anchor Sreenivasan Jain for the media trial he engaged in after Lt. Col. Purohit received bail. He said, “Srinivasan Jain called me to ask, how come Col. Purohit got bail? I said Srinivasan, you are so prepared, instead of ASG arguing you should have.” He also said that media should be more accountable for how and what they publish on their platforms.
Another instance he mentioned involved PTI, the news agency. He recounted an incident where it was claimed in a tabloid that, “Salve said in the Court – Yes my client has evaded tax, so what?” Along expected lines, it caused quite an uproar. Hurt by the blatant piece of misinformation, he decided to investigate how it came about. He then discovered that it was by a member from PTI.
When PTI was asked of the matter, they replied that it was the work of a youngster who was running in and out of court. The youngster was told by someone that Salve had indeed said the words and he ran with it.
On the matter of PILs, Salve said that it had become a tool to use against political adversaries. He said that PILs have become a tool to control the government and its functioning. He also emphasised that when the government abdicated its responsibility to govern, the Court transgressed its boundaries and started governing. In this regard that there were times when the Judiciary controlled the government.