The Supreme Court’s role, while hearing a petition before it, must be guided by “rule of law” rather than “rule by law”.
THE Supreme Court’s vacation bench’s recent remarks in Nupur Sharma’s case have stirred a debate on whether the court could have declined her relief, by prejudging her offence. Her petition, submitted under Article 32 of the Constitution, prayed for quashing or in the alternative, clubbing of almost identical criminal complaints filed against her across the country. Although her counsel opted to withdraw her petition sensing the mood of the vacation bench against her, the question whether the bench could have declined her relief, whatever the bench’s perception about her offence, could still be asked.
Meanwhile, another vacation bench of the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition by TV anchor Rohit Ranjan, against whom first information reports (‘FIRs’) have been filed for telecasting a misleading video against Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Looking at it from a legal perspective, it will be interesting to watch how the court deals with this issue, considering another bench’s controversial statements last week.
This article seeks to examine whether the court was right in making the controversial statements against Sharma when her petition simply sought to club all the nine FIRs registered against her in Delhi and in different states.
Did the court abide by the sacrosanct ‘rule of law’, which is the driving force in a democratic process?
What is the Rule of Law?
When the law is backed by a legitimate cause and the tenets of justice, and a state which follows this particular law, which stands above every powerful person and agency, it is called the “rule of law”. In other words, it is the dominance of regular law as opposed to arbitrary law. There has been a long struggle since independence to establish a state defined by this notion. Therefore, a state where the rule of law is “promoted and protected” is said to be a place where people are assured of their basic rights.
Conversely, if the rule of law is ignored, it can be concluded that the act has been done arbitrarily, capriciously, and discriminatorily. In the landmark Kesavananda Bharti versus State of Kerala, the Supreme Court held that rule of law forms the basic structure of the Constitution.
Further, in I.R. Coelho versus State of Tamil Nadu, it is held that the rule of law cannot be changed or abolished by constitutional amendments. This manifests the high status given to the principle in Indian constitutional jurisprudence.
There can be no other FIR where the information concerns the same offence. As a result, a second FIR in respect of an offence is not only impermissible but it violates Article 21 (Awadesh Kumar Jha versus State of Bihar).
Further, in the case of Arnab Goswami versus Union of India, following the same precedent, all the FIRs were clubbed in one place. It was held that if a court fails to do this, it would be a violation of the petitioner’s right as a citizen to fair treatment under Art. 14.
The Constitution of India intends India to be a country governed by the rule of law. The courts are the enforcers of the law, and they must engage in impartial decision-making free from any external influences.
In a democratic country like ours, access to justice forms the bedrock of this notion. However, this guarantee of equal rights will be rendered meaningless even if one pillar of democracy is not abiding by it. Therefore, when Nupur Sharma’s petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to club her FIRs for facilitating investigation against her, she was well within her rights to do so.
What should have been the duty of the court in this case?
In the case of Sundarjas Bhatija versus Collector, Thane, Maharashtra & Orsthe duties of the judges have been discussed in detail. It has been held that the duty of judges of superior courts should be to make the law more predictable. Apologetic approaches should not be used to address legal issues that arise directly from the case. It must be determined with reason which carries convictions within the courts, professions, and public.
When a judge deviates from his constitutional duty to provide justice, the general public will be in a dilemma as to whether to obey or not to obey such a law and will ultimately fall into disrepute. The words spoken and written by the judges in court must be done only after much effort and in good faith. It should be backed by law. It must be clear, consistent, and certain. There must be a waxing and waning of the principle depending upon pragmatic needs and moral yearnings.
Should judges avoid outside influences?
Judges must resist being persuaded by the emotional tone of the public’s view, which is being magnified by numerous social media platforms. Judges must keep in mind that the magnified clamour may not always reflect what is correct and what the majority believes in.
Although new media technologies have a great capacity for amplification, they are unable to discriminate between good and evil. Therefore, it is crucial that courts operate independently and defy any outside influences. The ultimate responsibility of a Judge is after all, to uphold the constitution and the laws. Reason, reasonableness and protection of human dignity are the values that will serve us well.
It can be concluded that the Supreme Court must always be guided by the rule of law, and its duty should be to uphold it. If Nupur Sharma’s alleged statements prima facie constitute hate speeches, they should be investigated and taken to logical culmination; that is, she must be punished as per law if found guilty by a court of law after a fair trial.
But the case before the Supreme Court was about her right to seek clubbing of FIRs against her, which is a right of every citizen, irrespective of the alleged offence registered against her. There is no reason why she is not entitled to the relief sought for. While giving the Constitution to ourselves, we resolved to give its citizens “rule of law” and not “rule by law”.
Rule by law, according to a respected columnist, has been increasingly masquerading as rule of law in recent years and must be exposed.