It is necessary for every Judge to remember constantly and continually that our Constitution is not a non-aligned national charter. It is a document of social revolution which casts an obligation on every instrumentality including the judiciary, which is a separate but equal branch of the State, to transform the status quo ante into a new human order in which justice, social, economic and political will inform all institutions of national life and there will be equality of status and opportunity for all. The judiciary has therefore a socio-economic destination and a creative function.

It cannot remain content to act merely as an umpire but it must be functionally involved in the goal of socio-economic justice. The British concept of justicing, which to quote Justice Krishna Iyer (Mainstream, November 22, 1980), is still “hugged by the heirs of our colonial legal culture and shared by many on the Bench” is that” the business of a Judge is to hold his tongue until the last possible moment and to try to be as wise as he is paid to look” and in the same strain are the words quoted by Professor Gordon Reid from a memorandum to the Victorian Government by Irvin, C.J. in 1923 where the judicial function was idealised in the following words:

The duty of His Majesty’s Judges is to hear and determine issues of fact and of law arising between the king and the subject or between a subject and a subject presented in a form enabling judgment to be passed upon them, and when passed, to be enforced by a process of law. There begins and ends the function of the judiciary.

Judiciary in tune with the social philosophy

Now this approach to the judicial function may be alright for a stable and static society but not for a society pulsating with urges of gender justice, worker justice, minorities justice, Dalit justice and equal justice, between chronic unequals. Where the contest is between those who are socially or economically unequal, the judicial process may prove disastrous from the point of view of social justice, if the Judge adopts a merely passive or negative role and does not adopt a positive and creative approach.

The judiciary cannot remain a mere bystander or spectator but it must become an active participant in the judicial process ready to use law in the service of social justice through a pro-active goal-oriented approach. But this cannot be achieved unless we have judicial cadres who share the fighting faith of the Constitution and who are imbued with the constitutional values. The necessity of a judiciary which is in tune with the social philosophy of the Constitution has nowhere been better emphasised than in the words of Justice Krishna Iyer which we quote:

Appointment of Judges is a serious process where judicial expertise, legal learning, life’s experience and high integrity are component, but above all are two indispensable – social philosophy in active unison with the socialistic articles of the Constitution, and second, but equally important, built-in resistance to pushes and pressures by class interests, private prejudices, government threats and blandishments, party loyalties and contrary economic and political ideologies projecting into pronouncements. (Mainsteeam, Vovember 22, 1980)

Justice Krishna Iyer goes on to say in his inimitable style:

Justice Cardozo approvingly quoted President Theodore Roosevelt’s stress on the social philosophy of the Judges, which shakes and shapes the course of a nation and, therefore, the choice of Judges for the higher Courts which makes and declares the law of the land, must be in tune with the social philosophy of the Constitution. Not mastery of the law alone, but social vision and creative craftsmanship are important inputs in successful justicing. (Mainstream, November 22, 1980)

What is necessary is to have Judges who are prepared to fashion new tools, forge new methods, innovate new strategies and evolve a new jurisprudence, who are judicial statement with a social vision and a creative faculty and who have, above all, a deep sense of commitment to the Constitution with an activist approach and obligation for accountability, not to any party in power nor to the opposition nor to the classes which are vociferous but to the half-hungry millions of India who are continually denied their basis human rights.

We need Judges who are alive to the socio-economic realities of Indian life, who are anxious to wipe every tear from every eye, who have faith in the constitutional values and who are ready to use law as an instrument for achieving the constitutional objectives. This has to be the broad blueprint of the appointment project for the higher echelons of judicial service. It is only if appointments of Judges are made with these considerations weighing predominantly with the appointing authority that we can have a truly independent judiciary committed only to the Constitution and to the people of India.

The concept of independence of the judiciary

The concept of independence of the judiciary is a noble concept which inspires the constitutional scheme and constitutes the foundation on which rests the edifice of our democratic polity. If there is one principle which runs through the entire fabric of the Constitution, it is the principle of the rule of law and under the Constitution, it is the judiciary which is entrusted with the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of the law and thereby making the rule of law meaningful and effective.

It is to aid the judiciary in this task that the power of judicial review has been conferred upon the judiciary and it is by exercising this power which constitutes one of the most potent weapons in armoury of the law, that the judiciary seeks to protect the citizen against violation of his constitutional or legal rights or misuse or abuse of power by the State or its officers.

The judiciary stands between the citizen and the State as a bulwark against executive excesses and misuse or abuse of power by the executive and therefore it is absolutely essential that the judiciary must be free from executive pressure or influence and this has been secured by the Constitution-makers by making elaborate provisions in the Constitution to which detailed reference has been made in the judgments in Sankalchand Sheth case (Union of India v. Sankalchand Himmatlal Sheth).

The wider concept of Judicial Impendence

But it is necessary to remind ourselves that the concept of independence of the judiciary is not limited only to independence from executive pressure or influence but it is a much wider concept which takes within its sweep independence from many other pressures and prejudices. It has many dimensions, namely, fearlessness of other power centres, economic or political, and freedom from prejudices acquired and nourished by the class to which the Judges belong.

If we may again quote the eloquent words of Justice Krishna Iyer:

Independence of the Judiciary is not genuflexion; nor is it opposition to every proposition of government. It is neither Judiciary made to Opposition measure nor Government’s pleasure. (Mainstream, November 22, 1980)

The tycoon, the communalist, the parochialist, the faddist, the extremist and radical reactionary lying coiled up and subconsciously shaping judicial mentations are menaces to judicial independence when they are at variance with Parts III and IV of the Paramount Parchment. Judges should be of stern stuff and tough fibre, unbending before power, economic or political, and they must uphold the core principle of the rule of law which says, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.”

This is the principle of independence of the judiciary which is vital for the establishment of real participatory democracy, maintenance of the rule of law as a dynamic concept and delivery of social justice to the vulnerable sections of the community.


Excerpt from S.P. Gupta & others v. Union of India (1981)