Some think that an attack on judges is an attack on the institution itself.
Supreme Court justices seem to have a mixed opinion of what is being said on social media. They have often criticized social media for being a docile tool in the hands of forces that want to “villainize” judges, launch personal attacks and stalk them for their work. Some think that an attack on judges is an attack on the institution itself. The government was quick to support the tribunal.
In his Constitution Day Address in November 2021, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana drew attention to the “attacks on the judiciary in the media, especially social media”.
“Physical attacks against judicial officers are increasing. Then there are the attacks on the justice system in the media, especially social networks. These attacks appear to be sponsored and synchronized. Law enforcement agencies, especially central agencies, need to deal effectively with these malicious attacks. Governments are expected to create a secure environment so that judges and judicial officers can operate without fear,” the CJI urged.
“A Sturdy Pillar”
The following month, in December 2021, the Chief Justice, speaking at the RedInk Awards at the Mumbai Press Club, stressed that “the justice system is a solid pillar”. But the Chief Justice said ‘the recent trend of lecturing on judgments and vilifying judges needs to be checked out’.
The refrain about using social media to attack the justice system is found in the annals of 2019 when (retired) Judge Arun Mishra said a concerted social media campaign was underway to ‘defame’ him. . He was at the time at the head of a bench which was reviewing Judge Mishra’s own judgment on the award of compensation under section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act 2013. The judge Mishra did not recuse himself from the case. The judge criticized the perceived effort by observing “left to me, I would have made up my mind on the matter, but you have slandered a judge and the institution on social media… if a judge is going to be slandered like that , then what is left of the institution? There is nothing personal in any of our judgements.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta at the time noted that “a trend has emerged that articles and social media posts appear days before a major hearing is scheduled in the Supreme Court with the aim of influence opinion outside the court on the question at stake…Your Lordships should give it some thought”.
In March 2021, the then Minister of Law and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, flagged the government’s concern over “social media campaigns” against individual judges for their opinions and judgments. judicial. Mr Prasad criticized “certain people” who file PILs in court, campaign on social media for a particular judgment and later troll judges when the verdict does not meet their expectations. He called it “country justice”.
Justice (retired) SA Bobde, in an interview with The Hindu days before he was sworn in as India’s Chief Justice in 2019, said “personal attacks on judges are unwarranted and destructive”.
In recent years, letters from concerned citizens have asked for the Attorney General’s permission to bring criminal contempt charges against individuals for Twitter posts aimed at the court.
However, supreme court judges like Justice DY Chandrachud, as evidenced by a recent hearing, offer a counter-point. He observed that the judges’ shoulders are “wide” enough to withstand the pikes fired at them. The judge does his duty and remains faithful to the Constitution.
In addition, the Supreme Court had defended online speech in its Shreya Singhal judgment by striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. The section had prescribed a prison sentence of up to three years for people who send “threatening” or “grossly offensive” messages through “communications services”. Judge (now retired) Rohinton F. Nariman, who wrote the verdict, found the section ambiguous and an “arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate” invasion of free speech.