“All the rights secured to citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary,” said American President Andrew Jackson in 1822. Those were heady days when statesmen not only made principled statements but lived by them.
Today, we are on shakier ground. The hairline cracks that became visible during the Emergency in the infamous Habeas Corpus case, when a Supreme Court bench ruled 4-1 in favour of the state’s right to unrestricted powers of detention, deepened over the years but the apex court redeemed itself from time to time with a landmark judgment that kept hopes alive. Hopes that whenever the nation edged too close to a dystopian abyss, the Supreme Court would pull it back.
That hope is receding, the cracks are growing. Lower courts regularly issue socially regressive rulings. In two recent verdicts, the Supreme Court astonishingly suggested the prosecution of the petitioners! In another, it reversed the basic legal tenet that an accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. Suddenly, the executive looms large over the judiciary. This issue of Frontline brings together some esteemed legal minds to parse these disturbing developments.
Of the 1976 Habeas Corpus case, The New York Times wrote: “The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society.”
We cannot reiterate it enough.
- Check out our issue - ‘State of the Judiciary’