In an unprecedented move in the history of Indian judiciary, four sitting judges of the Supreme Court of India on Friday called a press conference making startling statements about the workings of the country's apex court.
Addressing the media, Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Ranjan Gogoi and Kurian Joseph said that "the administration of the SC was not in order."
"Many things less than desirable have happened in the last few months. We owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things are not in order and remedial measures are necessary," Justice J Chelameswar – the No 2 in the apex court hierarchy – said at a hurriedly called press conference at his residence.
"Unfortunately our efforts have failed in convincing the Chief Justice of India to take steps to protect this institution."
The extraordinary event revealing a crisis in the India judiciary is concerning on several levels and can have far-reaching consequences.
"For the first time, a rift in the judiciary has come out in the open. Earlier, when there were differences among judges, we used to have full court meetings to resolve them, but this time the judges couldn't resolve them and came out to the public," VK Sharma, a retired High Court judge, said.
Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising called the conference 'historic'. "This is historic. I congratulate the four judges. I agree with them and it's commendable. There should be consensus between the five senior most Supreme Court judges," she told a TV channel.
Ashwani Kumar, former Law Minister said that "the honour of the institution of the apex court has been hurt."
"Serious questions have been raised from within the judiciary and this is a cause of concern," he stated.
Calling the judges "men of great integrity", senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said that the Prime Minister must ensure that all the four judges and the CJI should come to one opinion and then proceed further.
We can't criticize them, they are men of great integrity & have sacrificed a lot of their legal career, where they could've made money as senior counsels. We must respect them. PM must ensure that the 4 judges & CJI, in fact whole SC come to one opinion & proceed further: S.Swamy pic.twitter.com/dYj6MJPhkO— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
"I am sure they exhausted all other possible remedies. One could see the pain on their faces when they were speaking. The question is of natural justice. Judge must always be above suspicion, like Caesar's wife": KTS Tulsi, Senior Advocate SC on the press conference by judges pic.twitter.com/FIFpWmA1Es— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) January 12, 2018
Absolutely unprecedented, the press conference of the four senior judges of supreme court. Most important take away 'when national interest is at stake ordinary rules of business do not apply.— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) January 12, 2018
Sitting Supreme Court judges hold a press conference. Appeal to preserve Supreme Court to protect democracy .— Shabnam Hashmi (@ShabnamHashmi) January 12, 2018
This is indeed an alarming situation. I don't remember ever a PC by siting judges.
India Wake Up https://t.co/0bi5r58DHY
If 4 senior judges of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Chelameswar, say that India's apex court is not in order, where do the common people of this country put their faith on?— Anjan Chakraborty (@seeanjan) January 12, 2018
We are very concerned to hear 4 judges of the Supreme Court expressed concerns about the functioning of the Supreme Court. #DemocracyInDanger— Congress (@INCIndia) January 12, 2018
There must be some serious reason that they were left with no other option but to hold a Press Conference. But what connection Loya has with this? I know nothing about this & I don't want to make comments about any political matter: Mukul Mudgal, retired SC judge pic.twitter.com/oWWVb2t9WT— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
This is a black day for Judiciary. Today's press conference would cause a bad precedent. From now on every common man could look at all judicial order with suspicion. Every judgement will be questioned : Ujjwal Nikam, senior lawyer pic.twitter.com/lIPabrRNjS— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
Feel very disturbed over the issue, this should not have happened, but it has and there might be strong reasons for them. Consequence would be it would create apprehensions in minds of ppl: Justice(Retd) AK Ganguly on press conference by four Supreme Court judges pic.twitter.com/z3KDkLKsqb— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
The happenings in capital Delhi regarding Supreme court judges is very saddening. At a time when the common man feels that the political class is failing, his only and final resort is judiciary .Today's developments shakes the faith.— DR V MAITREYAN (@maitreyan1955) January 12, 2018
But not all among the legal fraternity are in support of the SC judges.
Retired HC judge RS Sodhi called the conference "immature". He said that all the four judges should be impeached. "Four judges cannot come together and speak against the CJI like this. Why should the CJI cow down to them?" he asked.
Senior lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP Majeed Memon said "what has happened today was very distressing, unfortunate and regrettable. Such a thing could have been avoided."
While not questioning their motive, former Lokayukta and retired judge of the Supreme Court Justice Santosh Hegde said that judges laying down their concerns in front of the public can only harm judicial confidence.
"I am not questioning their motive. There are lots of illegal things going on in the Supreme Court. But the judiciary cannot behave like the Executive or the Legislative. When the judiciary approaches the public domain, it is the end of judicial confidence," he told CNN-News18.