Justice, goes the adage, should not only be done, but also seen to be done.
The British, who were quite particular about appearances, went above and beyond reasonable semblances of impartiality. Stories abound of one district of the other in the peripheries of British India, where the local judge wouldn’t interact with the Deputy Commissioner or the Senior Superintendent of the Police, apart from polite greetings, at the local officers’ mess in the evenings. The reason? Because these individuals would almost invariably be appearing in front of him the next day. Couldn’t be seen hobnobbing with them.
Even casual, harmless bits of camaraderie was to be eschewed, then more glaring lapses in the appearance of impartiality were, obviously, unthinkable.
The supreme court justices in our country’s history were no angels. They were flawed human beings who compromised on principles. We’re talking about the whip-smart, suave, ridiculously well-read judges of yore. Flawed human beings, they have much to atone for; they compromised on their principles, especially when it came to the military. But they inherited the demeanour that the British had tried to inculcate, as far as appearances of impartiality were concerned.
Though it had been a downward slide on that front since a very long time, the elevation of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to the courts was a nodal point in this checkered history. Judicial demeanour went out the window and straight-up politicking took its place.
In the present dispensation, we see another iteration of that. Recently, during the Chief Justice’s visit to the UK to raise money for dams (a sentence that would have been quite the non-sequitur in another lifetime) he was asked, politely, about what he would say to his detractors about being flanked by the members of the ruling party. The response was pretty flippant: do you think your chief justice is that weak and partial?
Well, yes. That is what detractors would say. That’s why they are detractors in the first place.
Post-script: the aforementioned exchange took place at a press conference. A reporter has asked him the question. What business is it, even, for a chief justice to be holding a press conference in the first place?