Judges Are Forced to Make Political Choices, Says Justice Muralidhar

The former Chief Justice of Odisha high court said politics and judicial functioning are getting increasingly mixed up lately.

New Delhi: Former Chief Justice of Odisha high court, Justice S. Muralidhar, has lamented that politics and judicial functioning are getting increasingly mixed up, and judges are forced to make “political choices”.

“Many issues coming to court are political issues dressed as legal issues. Judges do make political choices. They may think they are being neutral. Politics and judicial functioning are not as separate as we want them to be. They are getting increasingly mixed up. What we wear, what we eat, what we speak – they are all becoming constitutional issues now and judges are being forced to make a choice, and make that choice in public,” Livelaw quoted Justice Muralidhar as saying.

He made these remarks at a panel discussion held in New Delhi on Thursday, September 14, following the launch of lawyer Gautam Bhatia’s latest book, Unsealed Covers: A Decade of the Constitution, the Courts, and the State. The panel also included the author, renowned criminal lawyer Rebecca John, and The Wire‘s editor Seema Chishti.

While noting that the book sheds light on the intersection of politics and judicial decisions, he said judges are forced to take ‘definitive positions’, often making political choices on legal and constitutional issues.

“Where do judges come from? Gautam’s writing tells you that they do come from definitive positions. This book tells you that there are many political issues coming to courts dressed as legal issues. The Hijab case, for instance. Today (Sep 14), we had two news items. One about the choice of food in Lakshadweep and another about the flying of flags in a temple in Kerala. Judges do make political choices,” he added.

The former judge also acknowledged the challenges faced by legal correspondents, including stories getting shelved at the editorial stage. He also drew his attention to how “selective information leaks” to certain news outlets could result in biased reporting.

“Many legal correspondents have lamented about how many stories were killed at the editorial desk. It will be interesting, after reading Gautam’s book if someone brings out a volume of killed stories. That will tell us how much was kept back. Also interesting is how newspaper scoops are a result of the selective leaking of information to a particular newspaper. But, this distorts the way journalists are supposed to function and the bias creeps into their writing. You will find journalists fiercely defending the court with their pieces, and then you begin wondering about the news channel or newspaper’s objectivity,” he added.

Justice Muralidhar retired as the Chief Justice of Odisha high court on August 7. As The Wire had reported earlier, there are allegations that despite all his credentials and seniority, his elevation to the Supreme Court had been stalled by the Narendra Modi-led government due to his critical judgments, pulling up the government on a number of occasions.

Justice Muralidhar is best known for decriminalising consensual homosexuality, the conviction of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the sentencing of 16 policemen for the killings of 38 Muslims in Hashimpura, and the bail to Gautam Navlakha arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.