Judgmental

A bar association in Kerala has, through a resolution, sought an enquiry into the conduct of a Supreme Court judge, Justice Cyriac Joseph, and criticised a statement he recently made at a meeting of the Christian clergy. The conduct and the statement were reported but they did not receive wide attention. The impugned action of the judge, who was chief justice of Karnataka High Court before being elevated to the Supreme Court in June this year, and the purported statement he made in Kerala are difficult to understand and that is why they have raised questions and caused concern.

The CBI, which is investigating the Sister Abhaya murder case in Kerala, submitted in the Kerala High Court earlier this month that the judge visited the Forensic Science Laboratory in Bangalore in May, and examined the narco-analysis tapes of the accused there. Justice Joseph was Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court then and did not have anything to do with the Abhaya case which was being heard in Kerala. The case has become controversial because of the persistent charges of cover-up attempts by the church. Justice Joseph belongs to the religious denomination to which the three accused, a nun and two priests, belong. The judge’s private visit to the laboratory and his viewing of the tapes have raised questions because there is no satisfactory explanation for his action. Again, at a meeting in which senior members of the clergy were present in Kerala this month, the judge said his religion was more important to him than his position as a judge.  Whatever Justice Joseph meant by the statement, it conveyed the sense that his commitment to his judicial position was less than his loyalty to the community and the church. That is strange because members of the judiciary should be committed to the Constitution and be guided by it only. They need to be above allegiance to castes, communities and religions, sense of identities based on states, languages, and other sectarian considerations. That is necessary to maintain the judiciary’s independence and impartiality and to retain people’s faith in it.
Seen in this light, the judge’s action and words could only be considered improper. A request has been made to the Supreme Court to conduct and inquiry into them and to take appropriate action. Judges should also refrain from attending functions organised by religious, communal or sectarian organisations.

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