Courts are not meant to be silent spectators: SC

Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators: Supreme Court

The Centre told the court there is little room for judicial interference in the management of Covid-19

Supreme Court. Credit: Reuters file photo

The Supreme Court has decided to examine the Centre's Covid-19 vaccination policy for age group of 18-44 years, saying judicial review and soliciting constitutional justification for policies formulated by the executive is an essential function, entrusted to the courts.

"Separation of powers does not result in courts lacking jurisdiction in conducting a judicial review of these policies. Our Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators when constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies," a bench presided over by Justice D Y Chandrachud said.

The Union government has told the court there is little room for judicial interference in the management of Covid-19, a global pandemic, where response and strategy was completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion.

Read | SC finds Centre's vaccine policy arbitrary, irrational

"Any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention, may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences, in absence of any expert advice or administrative experience, leaving the doctors, scientists, experts and executive very little room to find innovative solutions on the go," it had said.

Responding to the government's assertion, the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, said this court would, under the auspices of an open court judicial process, conduct deliberations with the executive where justifications for existing policies would be elicited and evaluated to assess whether they survived constitutional scrutiny.

The bench said it would continue to exercise jurisdiction to determine if the chosen policy measure conformed to the standards of reasonableness, militated against manifest arbitrariness and protected the right to life of all persons.

The bench also pointed out courts across the globe have responded to constitutional challenges to executive policies and warned against arbitrary and irrational policies being excused in the garb of the “wide latitude” to the executive that is necessitated to battle a pandemic.

The court referred to the Supreme Court of United States, which in various instances, has overruled policies by observing, “Members of this court are not public health experts...But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten” and “a public health emergency does not give Governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists."