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regular-article-logo Monday, 04 March 2024

Past hate: Editorial on CJI DY Chandrachud defending Justice Victoria Gowri’s appointment

Hate speech from a lawyer is not any more acceptable than anyone else’s, hence a judge’s past as a lawyer with this allegation against him or her cannot be discounted in people’s perception

The Editorial Board Published 23.11.23, 06:50 AM
DY Chandrachud.

DY Chandrachud. File Photo.

The differences between the role of a lawyer and that of a judge are obvious. Lawyers represent their clients in court, irrespective of the client’s position, political and otherwise. This reportedly formed part of the answer of the Chief Justice of India to questions at the Harvard Law School regarding the appointment of the advocate, Victoria Gowri, as additional judge of the Madras High Court. Ms Gowri’s appointment by the Supreme Court collegium had been controversial, with 21 senior lawyers writing to the President of India to return the collegium’s recommendation, referring to certain of Ms Gowri’s remarks on social media that amounted to hate speech against minority communities. Allegedly, she propagated the idea of the ‘love jihad’ and labelled members of a minority community ‘white terrorists’. But the CJI is reported to have said at the Law School that no one should be disabled from being called to judgeship because of his or her loyalty to a political cause while serving as a lawyer — the famous judge, V.R. Krishna Iyer, being an example. The lawyers protesting against Ms Gowri’s appointment had petitioned the Supreme Court too. The court, however, would not question the wisdom of the collegium, even though an argument had been made distinguishing political affiliation from hate speech.

One of the advantages of a collegium composed only of members of the higher judiciary is the impartiality regarding the political affiliations of the appointees. A judge is ideally above politics when he or she sits in court; upholding the law and the Constitution in order to deliver justice is their only duty. Hence political affiliations are irrelevant, as Ms Gowri’s former membership of the Bharatiya Janata Party is. But hate speeches, whether made on social media or any other public forum, are unconstitutional. It is punishable by law; such allegations against a judge can cause grave alarm. Hate speech from a lawyer is not any more acceptable than anyone else’s, hence a judge’s past as a lawyer with this allegation against him or her cannot be discounted in people’s perception. Their trust in the judiciary is important for the dignity of the court. It is as important that decisions of the collegium be perceived as wise, especially at a time when the government is vocal against its closed-door system and the opacity of its functions.

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