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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Kangaroo courts by media, agenda-driven debates weakening democracy, says CJI

EXPRESSING CONCERN over “media running kangaroo courts”, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said on Saturday that “ill-informed and agenda-driven debates” and “biased views” are weakening democracy. “I urge upon the media, particularly the electronic and social media, to behave responsibly,” he said.

The CJI was delivering the inaugural lecture instituted in the memory of Justice Satya Brata Sinha in Ranchi. Speaking on the “life of a judge”, he said: “Doing justice is not an easy responsibility. It is becoming increasingly challenging with each passing day. At times, there are also concerted campaigns in media, particularly on social media against judges. Another aspect which affects the fair functioning and independence of the judiciary is the rising number of media trials. New media tools have enormous amplifying ability but appear to be incapable of distinguishing between the right and the wrong, the good and the bad, and the real and the fake. Media trials cannot be a guiding factor in deciding cases.”

“Of late, we see the media running kangaroo courts, at times on issues even experienced judges find difficult to decide. Ill-informed and agenda-driven debates on issues involving justice delivery are proving to be detrimental to the health of democracy. Biased views being propagated by media are affecting the people, weakening democracy, and harming the system. In this process, justice delivery gets adversely affected. By overstepping and breaching your responsibility, you are taking our democracy two steps backwards,” said the CJI.

“Print media still has a certain degree of accountability. Whereas, electronic media has zero accountability as what it shows vanishes into thin air. Still worse is social media,” he said.

Saying that there is a growing demand for stricter media regulations and accountability, he advised the media to “self-regulate and measure their words”. “You should not overstep and invite interference, either from the government or from the courts. Judges may not react immediately. Please don’t mistake it to be a weakness or helplessness. When liberties are exercised responsibly, within their domains, there will be no necessity of placing reasonable or proportionate external restrictions. I urge upon the media, particularly the electronic and social media, to behave responsibly,” he said.

The CJI also emphasized the need to strengthen the judiciary and empower judges, saying an increasing number of physical attacks on judges are being witnessed. “Can you imagine, a judge who has served on the bench for decades, putting hardened criminals behind the bar, once he retires, loses all the protection that came with the tenure? Judges have to live in the same society as the people that they have convicted, without any security or assurance of safety. Politicians, bureaucrats, police officers and other public representatives are often provided with security even after their retirement owing to the sensitiveness of their jobs. Ironically, judges are not extended similar protection,” he said.

Describing the judiciary as “the organ which breathes life into the Constitution”, the CJI said “judicial review of law and executive is an integral part of the Constitutional scheme… it is the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution.”

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“One gets to hear that judges, being unelected, should not get into executive and executive arenas. But this ignores the Constitutional responsibilities that is placed on the judiciary,” he said.

The CJI said one of the biggest challenges before the judge at the present is prioritizing the matters for adjudication as judges cannot turn a blind eye to social realities. “I shall not fail to place on record my already worries about the future of judiciary in this country… The burden on a fragile judicial infrastructure is increasing by the day. There have been a few knee-jerk reactions in augmenting infrastructure in a few places. However, I haven’t heard of any concrete plan to equip the judge to meet the challenges of the foreseeable future, leave alone, a long-term vision for the century and ahead,” he said.

The need of the hour, he said, is to initiate a multi-disciplinary study, where scientific methods can be used to equip the judiciary for the future.

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