Address by Mr. Sumeet Malik, Associate Editor, Supreme Court Cases at the book release of Thus Spake Their Lordships

Amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent… is the celebrated dictum of Lord Atkin in Liversidge v. Anderson in 1942 during the midst of the Second World War. Though the lone dissent in the case, he was able to convey such a profound thought in such few words – that even during wartime, a person cannot be detained without reasonable grounds and a court of law did have the authority to ask for the reasons on which his detention was based.

A legal principle stated thus has a far greater impact and becomes part of legal literature and lore for many many years to follow. These words have echoed in Justice Fazl Ali’s judgment in Gopalan’s case even though he agreed with the majority in Liversidge and again in Justice Chandrachud’s and Justice Bhagwati’s judgments in ADM Jabalpur who also agreed with the majority in Liversidge.

Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri’s words in V.G. Row that the Supreme Court is the sentinel on the qui vive echoes in over 70 judgments of the Supreme Court.

“A Constitution…is not a document for fastidious dialectics but the means of ordering the life of a people. It had its roots in the past, its continuity is reflected in the present and it is intended for the unknown future.”

 “A Constitution must of necessity be the vehicle of the life of a nation. It has also to be borne in mind that a constitution is not a gate but a road.”

“A Constitution also reflects the hopes and aspirations of a people. Besides laying down the norms for the functioning of different organs a constitution encompasses within itself the broad indications as to how the nation is to march forward in times to come.”

Almost 42 years post what Justice Khanna had to say in Kesavananda, these words hold as true today, as they did then. I doubt if anyone can say that they are not applicable in today’s context where the challenges faced by the nation may have changed.

Quite similar are the words of Justices Shelat and Grover, for they said:

“Our constitution is unique, apart from being the longest in the world. It is meant for the second largest population with diverse people speaking different languages and professing varying religions. It was chiselled and shaped by great political leaders and legal luminaries, most of whom had taken an active part in the struggle for freedom from the British yoke and who knew what domination of a foreign rule meant in the way of deprivation of basic freedoms and from the point of view of exploitation of the millions of Indians. The constitution is an organic document which must grow and it must take stock of the vast socio-economic problems, particularly, of improving the lot of the common man consistent with his dignity and the unity of the nation.”

Justice Lahoti puts it so well when he states that the “benefit of doubt must always be reasonable and not fanciful.” in Takhaji Hiraji.

His words “every citizen of India is fundamentally obligated to develop a scientific temper and humanism. He is fundamentally duty-bound to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievements.” in AIIMS Students Union said in 2002 may well be bearing true today as India stands tall amongst the nations of the world and her daughters and sons hold positions of importance and significance many of the world’s top businesses, industries and institutions. He goes on to say “In the era of globalisation, where the nation as a whole has to compete with other nations of the world so as to survive, excellence cannot be given an unreasonable go-by and certainly not compromised in its entirety.”

His Lordhips following words in Anil Panjwani, though stated in the context of scurrilous statements by a party against a Judge of the Supreme Court are so true in today’s general context: “The dignity of the ocean lies not in its fury capable of causing destruction, but in its vast expanse and depth with enormous tolerance”…

I cannot but quote his words said almost ten years ago in K. Prabhakaran “Those who break the law should not make the law. Generally speaking, the purpose sought to be achieved by enacting disqualification on conviction for certain offences is to prevent persons with criminal background from entering into politics, and the House — a powerful wing of governance. Persons with criminal background do pollute the process of election as they do not have many a hold barred and have no reservation from indulging in criminality to win success at an election.” In the newly elected Bihar House of 243, where 94 of the new members, regardless of which party they belong to face charges of having committed heinous crimes, how important it is to remember these words.

We have been free for close to 68 years and its been nearly 55 years since we passed an anti-dowry law, yet Justice Dipak Misra had to lament in Gurnaib Singh: “It is a matter of great shame and grave concern that brides are burnt or otherwise their life-sparks are extinguished by torture, both physical and mental, because of demand for dowry and insatiable greed and sometimes, sans demand of dowry, because of the cruelty and harassment meted out to the nascent brides treating them with total insensitivity destroying their desire to live and forcing them to commit suicide: a brutal self-humiliation of “Life”.” It is indeed a matter of shame that in a country where ironically where women are deified, they are many a times treated as no better than chattel. He even consigns chivalry to the dustbins of history and says in Shamima Farooqui “chivalry, a perverse sense of human egotism, and clutching of feudal megalo-maniacal ideas or for that matter, any kind of condescending attitude have no room. They are bound to be sent to the ancient woods, and in the new horizon people should proclaim their own ideas and authority. They should be able to say that they are the persons of the modern age and they have the ideas of today’s “Bharat”. any other idea floated or any song sung in the invocation of male chauvinism is the proposition of an alien, a total stranger—an outsider. That is the truth in essentiality.” in the context of a Muslim woman seeking maintenance.

Nearly forty years later Justice Dipak Misra supplements Justice Khanna and says in Manoj Narula that the “The Constitution of India is a living instrument with capabilities of enormous dynamism. It is a Constitution made for a progressive society.” And he aptly adds “It is always profitable to remember that a constitution is “written in blood, rather than ink”.”

As social media becomes an intrinsic part of our lives and we are able to express our thoughts and ideas across borders, Justice Nariman eloquently states in Shreya Singhal “Freedom of speech and expression of opinion is of paramount importance under a democratic constitution which envisages changes in the composition of legislatures and governments and must be preserved. It lies at the foundation of all democratic organisations. Public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions. This right requires the free flow of opinions and ideas essential to sustain the collective life of the citizenry. While an informed citizenry is a precondition for meaningful governance, the culture of open dialogue is generally of great societal importance. The ultimate truth is evolved by “free trade in ideas” in a competitive “marketplace of ideas”.”

Words said in the context of a judgment, sometimes acquire lives of their own and transcend those judgments to be applicable in other situations. It was with this endeavor and hope that we sought to create this collection of quotes. Our task was not very difficult since the Editors of Supreme Court Cases, Mr Surendra Malik and now with Mr Sudeep Malik have been culling out these gems with the publishing of every issue of SCC. Some quotes had to be extracted from some of the older judgments of the seventies. Having collected these quotes we set about the task of classifying them under headings and sub-headings. My training while compiling the Supreme Court Yearly Digest was quite handy, because we realized that a quote can be classified under multiple headings and therefore we have added many cross references. We also realized that a person may be tempted for a quote by a word or a thought which may not be the central idea of the quote, yet that word may be present in it. So we created a word index. On similar lines we have created a Judge index to allow the reader to look up the quotes Judgewise.

I continuously use the words we because a work of this kind can never be that of one person. Due credit must first go to Ms. Bhumika Indolia who has worked tirelessly on this work. Credit is due to all the proof readers and the dtp operators in our offices who meticulously worked on the manuscript and typeset it so beautifully. Further credit must go to the designers and those who got the book produced in such a beautiful manner.

I end with a quote – “Justice is “the crowning glory”, “the sovereign mistress” and “the queen of virtue” as Cicero had said.” Dipak Misra, J. in State of Punjab v. Saurabh Bakshi, (2015) 5 SCC 182

 

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