Role Of Courts And Lawyers As Social Engineers

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TOPIC- Role Of Courts And Lawyers As Social Engineers


 Man is a social animal and needs a society for his leaving, working and enjoying life . A group of individual forms a society. Society has become an essential condition for human life to develop his or her personality. Therefore society and human life always go together. Every human being has also born with some desires and expectations which are inherent in nature. From childhood to till old age, every human being expects that his or her desire is to be fulfilled for which their arise conflict of desires or claims which comes under the term interest’. It is impossible to fulfil all the desires of a human being.

So to fulfil the desires of maximum human being for the welfare of society the concept of Social Engineering was emerged and which was coined by Roscoe Pound . The force which asks for the adoption of Social engineering is nothing but the conflict of interests of individuals. Interests more particularly the conflicting interest are the subject of Social Engineering. Social engineering is based on the notion that Laws are used as a means to shape society and regulate people’s behaviour. It is an attempt to control the human conduct through the help of Law .

According to Pound, -Law is social engineering which means a balance between the competing interests in society’, in which applied science are used for resolving individual and social problems. For this purpose this paper is going to discuss about the mechanism of Law in bringing Social Engineering. This paper is divided into three parts. Part II will discuss about the object of the paper. Part III will give suggestions and conclusion.

Conflict of interest and the order of priority – To which interest importance will be given so that balancing of interest, can be achieved for the benefit of society by sacrificing other interest and how law helps in bringing social engineering. The object of the paper is to find out how Law helps in harmonizing conflict of interests.

According to Pound, Law is Social Engineering. He says that -like an engineer’s formulae, laws represent experience, scientific formulations of experience and logical developments of the formulations, also inventive skill in conceiving new devices and formulating their requirements by means of a developed technique- . He called this theory as -Theory of Social Engineering’.

Here Pound has used two words i.e. -Social’ means group of individual forming a society. The second word is Engineering’ which means applied science carried out by engineers to produce finished products which are necessary for the society and which fulfil all their needs. By combining these two words he tries to say about engineers and what they do. They use the formula which is based on continuous experimentation and experience to get the finished product by means of an instrument or device.

Therefore Pound represents -experience with law’, instrument with organs of government, -engineers with judge and lawyer’ and -finished product with the wants of human beings’ and -society with a factory’. He says that like engineers, the lawyer should apply law in a court room so that the desires of the people are fulfilled.

Therefore he calls law as Social Engineering and says that the aim of Social Engineering is to build as efficient a structure of society as possible which requires the satisfaction of wants with the minimum of friction and waste. It means Law should work for balancing of competing interest within the society for the greatest benefit.

In a society everybody is motivated by their own interest and wants that preference be given to his or her interest over the other. Conflicts between interests arise because of the competition of the individuals with each other, with the public in order to satisfy human wants. Therefore it is needed to recognise the interest to which law should take account. For this purpose a legal system has to i.Recognize certain interest

 ii.Define the limits within which such interest are to be legally recognized and given effect to it.

 iii.And finally the above interest should be secured. Suppose I want to stand first in the exam. It is my desire.

 But this desire cannot be fulfilled because there is no legal recognition as there is no state’s interest in standing first position. Therefore law has to take into account the desires which need recognition. For the purpose of satisfying human interests, Pound defined interest as claims or wants or desires which men assert de facto about which the law must do something if organised societies are to endure’ . Pound classified various interests which are to be protected by the law under three categorise which are the following:

INDIVIDUAL INTERESTS: These are claims or demands involved from the stand point of the individual life which consists of interest of personality, interest in domestic relations and interest of substance.

PUBLIC INTEREST: These are the claims or desires asserted by the individual from the stand point of political life which means every individual in a society has a responsibility towards each other and to make the use of things which are open to public use.

SOCIAL INTEREST: These are the claims or demands in terms of social life which means to fulfil all the needs of a society as a whole for the proper functioning and maintenance of it. It is found that there is overlapping of interest between Public and Social Interest because both are same. Pound is silent about the overlapping of interest and discussed the problem of interests in terms of balancing of Individual Interest and Social Interest. He has classified the interest into three categories but talks about the balancing of only Individual and Social Interest.

It is also found that interests are the subjects on whom law has to apply social engineering. How to evaluate the conflicting interests in due order to priority? What are the guidelines on the basis of which social engineering should be carried out? Pound’s answer by saying that every society is based on basic assumptions which help in ordering of interest. One interest is of more value than that of other and the object of law should be to satisfy the interest which is in the benefit of the maximum people.

Thus these assumptions are identified as jural postulates which are based on hypothesis. According to Pound, jural postulates are not the absolute one and they keep on changing as the needs of the situation, place and time demands. In 1919, Pound summarised the postulates which every individual in civilised society must be able to take it for granted that:I. Others will not commit any intentional aggressions upon him. E.g. Assault, battery, wrongful restraint etc.

ii.Others will act with due care and will not cast upon him an unreasonable risk of injury. E.g. Negligence 

iii.He can appropriate what he has created by his own labour and what he has acquired under existing economic order for his own use. E.g. agricultural land and usufruct as property.

iv.The people with whom he deals with in the general intercourse of society will act in good faith. E.g. Defamation v.He must keep the things within his boundary and should look after those things so that their escape should not harm others. E.g. Ryland vs. Fletcher case In

1942, Pound added three new postulates in the list which are i.A person will have security as a job holder. E.g. ruled by labour law, law of contract ii.Society will bear the burden of supporting him when he becomes aged. E.g. 1/3rd concession in railway ticket, ceiling of income tax range is more. iii.And the society as a whole will bear the risk of unforeseen misfortunes such as disablement.

E.g. reservation quota for physically disabled person in education, travel etc. The jural postulates are to be applied both by the legislators and judiciary for evaluating and balancing the various interests and harmonizing them. Somehow Pound has told about the procedure of evaluating interests. But he has not said anything about the interest which will be given more priority over other.

Whether balance between Individual and Social Interest can be achieved or not? According to Pound, balance of competing interest means satisfaction of maximum interests with less friction and waste. It means to reconcile and adjust the social and individual interest. But in practice two interests cannot be balanced. It is also found that Pound has not given much detailed attention to the way one conflicting interest is to be compared with another. Balance can only be done only when two things are able to be compared.

Here, the -balancing’ metaphor is misleading. If two interests are to be balanced, that presupposes some scale or yardstick to measure and two things should be able for comparison.

For balancing of anything, mathematical calculation or ratio is the outcome. For e.g. in case of ecological balance, the amount of CO2 in terms of % is to be balanced with O2 which means reduction of CO2 by afforestation or increasing the level of O2 by afforestation so that ecological balance can be attained.

Therefore balance means to upgrade one thing at par with other so that neither of the two things loses anything. As per Pound’s theory, there is a clause relating to the protection of natural environment coming under social interest. There is no doubt that every society wants a healthy environment and the factory producing nuisances and pollution needs to be closed. It is in the interest of whole public for which factory is closed and the maximum satisfaction of people is achieved. But the owner of the factory having Individual Interest suffers a lot.

In this circumstance, though maximum interest of the people is satisfied with least sacrifice of individual interest of the owner but balance between Individual and Social Interest has not been achieved because one has to suffer and other has to gain.

When there is a matrimonial dispute between a husband and wife and wife gets a divorce decree against her husband, in this case interest of wife prevails over the husband and balance of two Individual Interests is not there because husband has to give maintenance to wife and children for which the husband suffers a lots.

Exception is in case of Divorce by Mutual Consent in which both husband and wife are satisfied with divorce decree and their individual interests are fulfilled. By above discussion it is opined that conflicting interests can be satisfied by reconciliation and adjustment and the word balance is not the appropriate one for conflicting interest. How does the satisfaction of the maximum of wants with the minimum of friction and waste can be done?

Pounds theory asks for the maximum gain with least friction and waste i.e. maximum satisfaction of human wants or expectations with least sacrifice. Here Pound wants to bring social control in the society. According to him social control means satisfaction of the maximum of wants of the human being in a society. Pound says that for social control, interest is the only thing which should be taken into account and Law is a means of social control.

Thus law should work for balancing of interest within the society i.e. satisfying maximum interest with least waste. Somehow this theory gives prime importance to interest of public at large over individual interest and if interpreted strictly then they may result in eliminating individual interest. Here law is not supposed to deal with individual interest but bunch of interest. The tool is given in the hands of law to set them at their right position for the maximum outcome.

It is true that law and order plays an important role in a society. Law and order are carried out by the Judiciary and they keep on harmonising the conflicting interests of the individual and the public through the process of social engineering.

It has been witnessed through the action of Supreme Court in Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum Vs. The Union of India in which Kuldip Singh J. delivered the judgment that -even if the industries are of vital importance for the countries progress as they provides employment but having regard to the pollution caused by him, the principle of -sustainable development’ has to be adopted as a balancing concept between ecology and development- .

In this case the two principles emerged i.e. -precautionary principle’ and the -Polluter Pays’ principle. In a land mark case of Union Carbide Corporation vs. Union of India , the Supreme Court laid down the rule of Absolute Liability in which it was held that -where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous activity, then the enterprise involved is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate to all those who are affected by the accident .

In this case regarding the compensation the Court said that the measure of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the enterprise because such compensation has a deterrent effect for future accident.

After this case, Central government passed an Act known as –The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of Claims) Act, 1985′ in which sec.5 of this Act says about the categorization and registration of claims . The various claims of the each individual relating to their own body, property and the claims arising from damage to flora and fauna were registered. Under sec11 of this Act, the quantum of compensation payable to the claimants was decided.

From this judgment it can be said that law gives first priority to social interest over individual interest of substance i.e. in conserving natural resources and in the protection of natural environment which is required by the whole public against the private individual who is the owner of the enterprise. Finally the maximum claims of the people were satisfied with least sacrifice of individual interest. By this act it can be seen that how various claims were categorized and compensation were given, which ultimately says that law is an instrument of social change.

In Deepa vs. S.I of Police It was held that the interest of society should be given paramount consideration over the individual interest of those who are running the show for profit and who are also earning livelihood by performing the cabaret dance in a hotel . It was a situation where the whole public says that the dance was obscene in the eyes of onlookers, which is an offence u/s 294 of IPC 1860. Hence it is found that Social Interest prevails over the Individual Interest. But this is not true in many cases.

Social Engineering deals with as many satisfactions of human wants which means law should play an important role in bringing social change by fulfilling the interest of the society as a whole. There are also instances where individual interest has priority over social interest. According to Sec122 of Evidence Act 1872, marital communication between husband and wife which is an individual interest in domestic relation are privileged .

Then Social Interest can be fulfilled by securing privilege communication (matrimonial communication) in which individual interest in connection with domestic relation is first privileged and which in turn secure the social institution of marriages.

Law has given preference to the interest of backward classes through reservation in government jobs, educational institutions, which not only hampers the interest of eligible candidate but also it hampers the interest of the public at large.

By this type of law general people cannot tell that this reservation policy which comes under constitutional law is a bad law for them. Sometimes bad law becomes good law. Here Law helps in social engineering by giving special protection to the minority class having individual interests over social interests so that there can be ultimate social progress by bringing the minority class equally to the standard of upper class.

CONCLUSION: By analysing this paper it is concluded that, Law plays an important role in reconciling and adjusting conflict of interests. Both the Social Interest and Individual Interest prevail over each other. Priority is given to both the interests.

Roscoe Pound has given the concept of Social Engineering for the American Society but this concept is followed by other countries in resolving disputes. India has also followed the same concept in establishing a welfare society. Both Judiciary and Legislators play an important role in enacting the statutes which fulfil the various desires of human being. In this techsavvy society desires of human being grows and to fulfil their desires new policies, strategy has been developed.

The first principle to observe is that the wisdom of the law must be accepted. A little incursion into law-making interstitially, as Holmes put it, may be permissible. For other cases the attention of Parliament and/or Government can be drawn to the flaw.”

The traditional role of the Judge has been envisaged as that of an impartial arbiter who hears the forensic debate before him and renders judgment without ever stepping into the arena of debate. Lately, however, it has become fashionable for Judges to jump into the fray and actively participate in the debate by supporting one side or the other and this process masquerades under the felicitous name “judicial activism”. In the name of judicial activism, modern day Judges in India have abandoned the traditional role of a neutral referee and have increasingly resorted to tipping the scales of justice in the name of “distributive justice”.

The legitimacy of such actions needs critical appraisement at the hands of the legal fraternity, even at the risk of unpopularity by swimming against the tide.

The term “judicial activism” came into currency sometime in the twentieth century to describe the act of judicial legislation i.e. Judges making positive law. Although, the underlying debate on judicial activism has been around since the days of Blackstone and Bentham, the credit belongs to a non-lawyer Arthur Schlesinger Jr., for popularising the term “judicial activism”. His 1947 article in Fortunestarted the modern debate. It brought into focus the dichotomy observed in the judicial process: unelected

Judges versus democratically elected legislatures; result-oriented judging versus principled decision-making; observance versus side-stepping of precedents; lawversus politics and so on. On the basis of their judicial philosophies, Schlesinger characterised some Judges of the US Supreme Court as “judicial activists”, some as “champions of self-restraint” and others as comprising the middle group.

Scholars of law, practitioners as well as the general public have debated, often fractiously, the correctness or otherwise of this kind of judicial activity, some advocating John Austin’s deference to restraint and others Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s views which tended towards activism.

In India, although the activism versus restraint debate existed even in the pre-Constitution period, it did not vigorously take-off till the 1970s when the Supreme Court of India itself became very activist. However, the underlying philosophical issue of the relationship between means and ends has been long debated in Indian philosophy.

In recent times, it was Mahatma Gandhi who advocated that the means used for achieving a particular result must also be as acceptable as the result itself. As we shall see, the saga of judicial decision-making by the highest court in India indicates that judicial activism or the mere pursuit of ends without regard to the means has become the dominant approach in judicial thinking.

With this background, it becomes necessary for the Judge to ask, like Hamlet, whether it is nobler in the mind to remain impervious to the dominant discourse around, or to trim the sails of his thinking to the winds blowing around. This is a question of great moment, which must haunt any conscientious Judge. Tradition and good sense demand that, irrespective of the political debate around, the Judge maintains a neutral stance in his decision-making, being guided only by accepted legal principles and the dictates of his conscience.

The Judge being human, the social ambience in which he operates is likely to affect his judgment, but the extent to which he disallows this to happen determines his mettle. This is the theme that I propose to explore in this lecture.

  1. The Fault Lines in the Debate the discourse of judicial restraint and judicial activism leads to discernment of distinct fault lines that may lead to volcanic upheavals if not repaired in good time. These fault lines can be examined under distinct heads as discussed hereinafter.
  2. The relationship between “proper” judicial review and “improper” judicial activism

(i) Improper exercise of the power of judicial review

The judicial branch is invested with the power of being the final arbiter of constitutional disputes under many democratic Constitutions. India, which has modelled its Constitution, to some extent, on the US Constitution, falls in this category. One of the fundamental features of such a constitutional set-up is the judicial power to invalidate legislation on the ground of infringement of the constitutional parameters such as legislative incompetence, violation of guaranteed fundamental rights, inconsistency with an express provision or basic feature of the Constitution, etc.

The power of judicial review is an exception to the principle of separation of powers, which demarcates distinct areas for the different constitutional organs to exercise their powers. The power of judicial review postulates that, in the event of a dispute as to whether the legislature or the executive has overstepped its constitutional bounds, the judiciary shall decide the dispute by application of well-established constitutional doctrines and principles of interpretation. Although the doctrine of separation of powers is not watertight or immutable, judicial interpretation must not reduce it to a nullity.

Indeed, in some areas, our Constitution-framers have created evident and unambiguous barriers against judicial intervention in legislative or executive domains, but even these have been breached by the courts eager to assert their authority.

Indeed, nothing can be headier than the power to invalidate another constitutional organ’s action. Such great power must of necessity bring in its wake great responsibility. The problem with judicial activism is its proclivity for excessive and legally improper use of this very great power to invalidate arguably lawful and proper legislative or executive actions.

In fact, history abounds with instances where overactive Judges have jettisoned well-established principles to produce incongruous results, which they honestly thought were necessary, even if democratically elected legislatures or executive thought otherwise. I now propose to examine some of these instances in the US, India and the UK.

During the period of the Great Depression in the 1930s in the US, the US Supreme Court invalidated a series of legislative measures taken by the Government under the so-called “New Deal” program. These legislations were intended to directly address the problems arising from the Great Depression by generating employment, obligating minimum wages, safe working conditions and other social welfare measures. However, these legislations were struck down by a majority of the Judges on the premise that they interfered with the doctrine of freedom of contract and were, therefore, contrary to the then current philosophy of laissez faire.

The activism of the Judges in striking down such obviously valid legislation contributed to the elongation of the Great Depression leading to unavoidable loss of life and misery for millions of people. This judicial attitude led the US President Franklin Roosevelt to threaten to “pack” the Supreme Court with Judges who would show restraint and accept the legislative wisdom of the “New Deal”. With this threat hanging over their heads and with the death or retirement of the activist Judges, the US Supreme Court eventually restrained its activism, leading to the famous quip about the “switch in time that saved nine”—the nine Justices!

Judicial activism has still a darker history as seen in the infamous case of Dared Scott v. Sandford where the US Supreme Court virtually supported slavery by denying the power of the Federal Government to abolish this practice. The preposterous reasoning put forward by the Judges, ignoring clear provisions of law, was that black people were not citizens and could not, therefore, claim constitutional protections.

Moreover, since slaves were chattels of the slave-owners, freeing them from slavery meant forfeiture of the slaveowner’s property without compensation—something, which in the thinking of those activist Judges was unfair and unreasonable. As we shall see later as well, this sort of result-oriented jurisprudence requires embarrassing legal gymnastics from Judges.

Turning to India, I wish to point to a recent and disturbing trend of using the judiciary to second-guess unambiguously legislative or executive powers. Indeed, our Judges have succumbed to the temptation to interfere even with well-recognised executive powers such as treaty-making or foreign relations. A Delhi High Court judgment in 2002, made a treaty signed by India with another sovereign foreign State virtually inoperable, by striking down an administrative order connected with it, inter alia, on the ground that the Court did not like the policy being effectuated by it.

One shudders to think whither this trend could lead—whether, for example, the constitutionality of a declaration of war or peace treaty signed by India could also be questioned in a court of law? If the courts were to strike down the peace treaty as being “unconstitutional”, would the armed forces be compelled to prosecute the war under a judicial mandamus? Indeed, the mind boggles at such eventualities, however improbable they may appear, given the new-found enthusiasm for judicial activism in areas that are inarguably no pasaranfor Judges.

(ii) Improper non-exercise of the power of judicial review

“Judicial activism”, in my view, has both a positive and a negative aspect. It involves both exceeding the judicial sphere as well as refusing to act within the judicial sphere. Improper non-exercise of judicial review is as dangerous as improper overuse of judicial review.

Judicial activism of the former variety is best seen in the infamous ADM, Jabalpur v. Shiva ant Shukla,1better known as Habeas Corpus case,19 where the Supreme Court bent backwards to support what was clearly improper executive action in detaining persons without just cause during the “phoney emergency” of the 1970s. It went to the extent of expressing its “diamond-bright, diamond-hard hope” that the powers that ought to have been clipped, would not be misused.

As we all know, the executive, blessed with the Supreme Court’s judgment, did precisely the opposite, confirming Lord Acton’s declaration: “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This judgment was not, however, totally unexpected because, in previous years, we had seen the spectre of the supersession of “independent” Judges in favour of more politically and ideologically “committed” ones. Often judicial independence is compromised at the altar of political or social ideology in the name of activism.

Indeed, an activist Supreme Court, eager to jump into the political arena by abdicating its “counter-majoritarian” role as the guardian of the Constitution, almost brought our cherished ideal of a democratic republic to a standstill.

Similarly disingenuous was the judgment of the House of Lords in Liversidge v. Anderson,by which the British Government was given virtually unlimited powers to detain persons, even on entirely dubious grounds, during wartime. But, inevitably, there will be conscientious Judges who will not fall prey to such dubious arguments. Thus, Lord Atkin who was the sole dissenter (like Justice H.R. Khanna in Habeas Corpus case19), went on to deplore the majority Judges who according to him:

“When face to face with claims involving the liberty of the subject, show themselves more executive-minded than the executive.”

This abdication of the judicial role led one Judge to later comment that from being lions under the throne, the judgment of the House of Lords had “reduced us to mice squeaking under a chair in the Home Office”. Thus, we have seen that judicial activism, especially the explosive admixture of law and politics, whether exceeding or abdicating the judicial function, has a thoroughly disreputable history in many parts of the world including India.

  1. “Result driven” decision-making and activist interpretations of Article 14

Activist Judges have often ignored or side-stepped binding legal precedents to arrive at preconceived results, which conform to their conception of justice. However honest and bona fide this exercise, its legal legitimacy is open to question, as I shall presently examine.

E.P. Royappa v. State of T.N. is a classic example of this kind of activism in the interpretation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which, as a matter of fact, simply deals with “equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws” and nothing more. The classic formulation of the “Doctrine of reasonable classification” in Anwar Ali Sarkar, reformulated in Ram Krishna Dalmia and in Special Courts Bill, 1978, In re  held the field and became formally recognised as the touchstone for testing legislative and executive violations of Article 14.

However, all of a sudden, in E.P. Royappa25 the Supreme Court through the concept of “substantive due process”, which had been specifically rejected by the Constituent Assembly,equated the concept of “arbitrariness” with “inequality”. The Court observed:

“Now, what is the content and reach of this great equalising principle? … We cannot countenance any attempt to truncate its all-embracing scope and meaning, for to do so would be to violate its activist magnitude. Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be ‘cribbed, cabined and confined’ within traditional and doctrinaire limits.

From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies…. Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and is therefore violative of Article 14….

From Royappa25 it was a merry ride through Maneka Gandhi, R.D. Shetty, Ajay Hasia, and a host of other cases where the Supreme Court freely struck down actions of the other coordinate branches of the Government on the basis that it was not “reasonable” or was “arbitrary”, a standard of judicial review, neither contemplated by the framers of the Constitution nor by the plain text of Article 14.

Indeed, there are numerous other problems with this “New Doctrine” as some have pejoratively dubbed it.A noted critic is Mr H.M. Seervai who in his monumental book Constitutional Law of India has found several faults with the “New Doctrine”.

At the outset, Mr Seervai argues that the New Doctrine hangs in the air, because it is propounded without reference to the terms in which the guaranteed right to “the equal protection of the laws” is conferred. Indeed, by obfuscating its true meaning, the “New Doctrine” gives Judges the untrammelled power to strike down legislative and executive action at will with a bald observation that they are not “reasonable”.

In fact, I would submit that the standard of “reasonability” is no standard at all because what is “reasonable” or “unreasonable” is in the eye of the beholder without reference to any objective examination. It is not the duty of the court to decide whether a certain statute was “reasonable” or not because that is in the policy realm of India’s democratically elected representatives. The court’s only duty is to examine whether the legislature had the authority to promulgate the statute and examine whether the statute violated one of the Constitution’s textually enumerated fundamental rights.

Secondly, the “New Doctrine” involves the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle or the fallacy of simple conversion.The “New Doctrine” purports to treat “arbitrariness” and “inequality” as the same thing. In fact, not all arbitrary actions can be termed unequal simply because some arbitrary actions are both arbitrary and unequal.

If, for example, all red-haired students are expelled from a school without reason, that action is both arbitrary and unequal vis-…-vis non-red-haired students. If, however, all students irrespective of hair colour are expelled, it is simply arbitrary but not unequal. Hence, while “arbitrariness” and “inequality” are conceptually different, this fact is ignored by the activist mindset.

Thirdly, the “New Doctrine” fails to distinguish between the violation of equality by a law and its violation by executive action. Finally, the “New Doctrine”, as Mr Seervai argues, fails to analyse certain concepts like “arbitrary”, “law”, “executive action” or “discretionary power” and fails to recognise the necessary implication of numerous Supreme Court decisions on classification that were arguably binding precedents and certainly settled law.

  1. Judicial legislation and separation of powers

(i) “Substantive due process” and Article 21

The Supreme Court, early in its history, in a series of judgments beginning from A.K. Gopalan, V.G. Row, and others, held that the discredited US concept of “substantive due process” could have no role in the interpretation of Article 21 because it essentially involved substituting a Judge’s notion of “reasonableness” with that of the legislature’s.

However, from Maneka Gandhi31 onwards, the Supreme Court introduced into Article 21 the concept of “substantive due process”, or in other words, a standard that requires executive and legislative action to be “reasonable” or “fair”—nebulous terms that are totally at the discretion of an activist Judge to use as he pleases. Indeed, as we saw in the examples of the “New Deal” cases and the Slavery judgment in the US, “substantive due process” is a concept with a blackened history. With this in mind, the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India was not in favour of using the expression “due process” in the text of

Article 21 for they were familiar with its misuse in the US context. Accordingly, the Drafting Committee while debating the Draft Constitution of India decided that “due process of law” be substituted by “procedure established by law” similar to Article 30 of the Japanese Constitution of 1946. What the framers of the Constitution consciously avoided, judicial activism has brought in by the back door.

There are several problems with the use of “substantive due process” in the interpretation of Article 21. The first is the legitimacy of creating fundamental rights through judicial interpretation. With the power of “substantive due process” behind them, the courts have constantly foraged the forbidden fields by creating newer rights by treating them as flowing from the “right to life” in Article 21 of the Constitution. Article 21 simply reads,

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Article 21 has verily been treated as the cornucopia from which all such newly created rights flow out. Such judicial legislation is only possible by committing violence to the plain words of the article, which, as evident, is only worded in the negative. Founding new rights on Article 21 is, to say the least, debatable. The entire Constitution, in particular Part III, has been designed to provide a framework for regulation of human society in an orderly manner by providing certain specifically enumerated fundamental rights.

The argument in favour of judicial legislation on Article 21 is that “new fundamental rights” are intricately connected with the right to life and without these “new fundamental rights” life would itself become meaningless. This argument, however, has a serious flaw. In fact, if these “new fundamental rights” are premised on their intricate connection with the right to life, then the whole of Part III would be redundant, by the same token, as all rights guaranteed therein by specific enumeration would also be similarly connected.

In other words, if the judicial legislation argument were correct, the entire scheme of Part III could have been telescoped into only one provision, namely, Article 21!

(ii) Judicial legislation and international law

Judicial activism has even extended to wholesale importation of principles of international law, which are controversial even internationally. For example, principles like “precautionary principle” and “polluter pays” have been made a part of domestic environmental law by the judicial dicta in Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India

15. Even otherwise once these principles are accepted as part of the customary international law there would be no difficulty in accepting them as part of the domestic law. It is (sic) almost an accepted proposition of law that the rules of customary international law which are not contrary to the municipal law shall be deemed to have been incorporated in the domestic law and shall be followed by the courts of law.”

In fact, these principles have been the subject of much critical debate and there is no unanimity amongst scholars as to their exact content. Even the concept of “sustainable development”, which the Supreme Court heavily relied upon, is an extremely nebulous concept, a fact even conceded to in the judgment itself!If that is the case, then I wonder what purpose was served by making it the fulcrum of a judgment which would obviously bind all subordinate courts in India who would then inevitably fumble when considering what was “sustainable development” or how it should influence their judgments.

Let me make it clear that I am not against “sustainable development” as a legislative or executive policy. In fact, I am personally for it; but I am against the courts dabbling in concepts that are beyond proper legal definition.

Further, acceptance of international norms and laws is an exclusively executive function since it is closely associated with questions of national sovereignty. Moreover, even if these particular international environmental law principles are trite for incorporation into domestic law, the Supreme Court’s judgment provides for automatic incorporation of all customary international legal principles, whatever their content or validity, into domestic law. This is clearly a judicial overkill.

Similarly, in M.V. Elisabeth v. Harwan Investment and Trading (P) Ltd. the Court felt that where statutes are silent “it is the duty of the court to devise procedure by drawing analogy from other systems of law and practice “Drawing upon this rather debatable “duty”, the Court read into the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, something that was not even provided for by the said Act, but provided for in international conventions and according to the Court was a part of customary international maritime law.

This was despite a catena of Indian precedents to the contrary. Guidance from other jurisdictions is always welcome, but not the wholesale incorporation of foreign principles without concern for the actual state of domestic law and the consequences of such incorporation.

  1. Activism, “political questions” and the problem of justifiability

“Political questions” which were meant to be out-of-bounds for the courts have often been thrown into the laps of Judges. Instead of throwing them back, the courts have, with great enthusiasm, essayed into adjudication of such questions, often with unsatisfactory results. We need to explore first the reasons for excluding the adjudication of “political questions” by the courts.

The “political questions’ exclusion” doctrine is best stated in Baker v. Carr, where the US Supreme Court held that certain questions were non-justiciable in a court of law when there was:

“… a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it;”

The recent Jharkhand Assembly dispute would probably fall under the first category because there is a constitutional provision, Article 212, entrusting the adjudication of such issues to a coordinate constitutional branch, namely, the legislature, which ideally should have been left free to deal with the question, the courts keeping aloof.

Ayodhya Reference case, where the President requested the Supreme Court to answer politically sensitive questions like: whether there existed a temple at Ayodhya before the construction of the Babri Mosque, fall in the second category, where the matter cannot be resolved by reference to “judicially manageable standards”. It would have in fact required the Judges to opine on a point of archaeology rather than law, and thereby step on to a political minefield. The Supreme Court was perfectly correct in refusing to answer the reference.

In fact, such questions have arisen merely on account of the failure of the executive or the legislature to resolve their own political problems and are attempts to pass the buck to the judiciary. The Supreme Court should stoutly refuse the temptation to crown itself with political thorns.

Yet, despite the dangers of entering the political Eddy stone Rocks, the philosophy of judicial activism has propelled Judges to sail into uncharted waters. Judges now seem to want to engage themselves with boundless enthusiasm in complex socio-economic issues raising myriads of facts, and ideological issues, that cannot be adjudicated by “judicially manageable standards”.

In SarlaMudgalthe Supreme Court made wide-ranging observations on the need to bring in a uniform civil code and directed the State to explain the steps it had taken towards the enactment of the same.The question of a uniform civil code is undoubtedly an issue fraught with complex political fault lines involving minority rights, personal laws, women’s rights and so on, and the Supreme Court’s observations not unexpectedly erupted into a major political issue. In a later case, the Supreme Court was forced to back down by explaining away its controversial observations in Sarla Mudgal56 as having been “incidentally made”.

In other cases, Judges have sought to incorporate ideologically grounded concepts such as “Hindutva” and “Socialism”. into their judgment with no credit whatsoever.

Judicial activism has also extended to the use of authorities with political overtones for deciding cases—a wholly improper approach. For instance, in Shah Bano, while the final order granting maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman is probably correct, the Supreme Court’s approach of relying on unfamiliar non-legal sources (such as theHoly Qur’an itself)and making sweeping generalisations, instead of narrow legal reasoning, made the Court the target of unseemly political controversies.

It appears that the Supreme Court has slowly begun to realise the futility of entering upon policy issues, especially economic policy, and this culminated in the following observations in BALCO Disinvestment case:

47. Process of disinvestment is a policy decision involving complex economic factors. The courts have consistently refrained from interfering with economic decisions as it has been recognised that economic expediencies lack adjudicative disposition and unless the economic decision, based on economic expediencies, is demonstrated to be so violative of constitutional or legal limits on power or so abhorrent to reason, that the courts would decline to interfere. In matters relating to economic issues, the Government has, while taking a decision, right to ‘trial and error’ as long as both trial and error are bona fide and within limits of authority.”

This attitude, presently only extending to the economic sphere, should govern all policyrelated disputes that are brought to the courts. Indeed, the answers to many socio-economic and political problems lie with Parliament and in a polling booth and not in a courtroom.

  1. Enforceability of activist judgments

ArunShourie’s book Courts and Their Judgments is a useful chronicle of the difficulties that arise when the courts attempt to do what the executive is constitutionally required to do. The concept of “continuing mandamus” is an admission of the fact that controversial socioeconomic issues need constant monitoring over intricate details to be sustained over a considerable period of time. Frequent resort to such orders, which the courts have neither the time nor institutional mechanism to enforce to their ultimate conclusion, eventually erodes the credibility of the judicial institution.

Despite the acclaim showered on BandhuaMuktiMorcha orders, as pointed out in Courts and Their Judgments, the results came to naught.

The courts possess neither the power of the sword, nor the purse; they only have to rely upon the goodwill and respect of the two coordinate constitutional branches as that of the general public, for the enforcement of their orders. This argument should, however, not be misunderstood as recommending the pursuit of public popularity, or suggesting that Judges be moved by the hysterias of the day, for even Adolf Hitler was popular in his time. It only means that Judges should be conscious of the limitations of the judicial function and the consequent need to remain within the judicial sphere.

Indeed, the only power to enforce activist judgments is the power to punish executive or legislative functionaries for contempt of court, which gets stunted with overuse. Moreover, it is not possible for the Court to keep on exercising this contempt power to implement minute details of its orders, the consequences of some of which may not even be fully realised before their implementation.

  1. Erosion of the principle of stare decisis

During the 1980s, there was a tendency to deviate from settled principles of law in the name of “innovative principles”; the objective being to render “social justice”. On the other hand, Professor Roscoe Pound has stated “Law must be stable, yet it cannot stand still.”Similarly, Justice Aharon Barak says, “Stability without change is degeneration. Change without stability is anarchy.” These wise observations imply that changes in law brought about by judicial interpretation must, more often than not, be evolutionary and not be revolutionary or dramatic.

As dramatically changed interpretations are error-prone and based only on expediency, it would be wiser to take one step at a time than a quantum leap, particularly into unknown regions. There may, however, be situations that call for dramatic or sudden changes in law, but exceptions must be few and far between and not easily resorted to, as stare decisis is yet one of the fundamentals of our legal system.

Judicial activists do not easily accept stare decisis as a fundamental principle and in the 1980s the Supreme Court gave the lead to the process of dismantling stare decisis. The judgment in D.S. Nakarais a classic example of this approach. In D.S. Nakara74, the Court observed:

“Socio-economic justice stems from the concept of social morality coupled with abhorrence for economic exploitation. And the advancing society converts in course of time moral or ethical code into enforceable legal formulations. Overemphasis on precedent furnishes an insurmountable road-block to the onward march towards promised millennium. An overdose of precedents is the bane of our system which is slowly getting stagnant, stratified and atrophied.”

If the observations of the Court are right, then at any given time the Judge may do what he thinks in conformity with his conception of “social justice” by throwing to the winds established principles of law and binding judgments. Moreover, dramatic changes in law create immeasurable difficulties for the High Courts and the subordinate courts for they are left to flounder in a sea of conflicting precedents.

They also create chaos and instability for citizens who have moulded their legal relationships based on the extant law but now find that the goal post has been moved in the middle of the game! Further, when the highest court in the land itself shows scant respect for precedents, it may well encourage the High Courts and the subordinate courts to follow suit, leading to judicial indiscipline and anarchy, which bodes ill for any legal system.

III. Undesirable Consequences Ensuing from Judicial Activism

1. Delay, backlog and abuse of public interest litigation

The judicial system, which is currently unable to handle ordinary litigation, as it faces a huge backlog of undecided cases, has to now contend with non-traditional types of litigation in the form of public interest litigation (PILs) that are attempts to use Judges as “social engineers”.

Abrogating the principle of locus standi in the name of ushering in social justice and the upliftment of the downtrodden sections of society, the courts opened their doors so wide that they find it difficult to control the influx today. The US Chief Justice John Roberts, writing about the US Supreme Court, which only hears a small fraction of the cases the Supreme Court of India hears, had this to say about the problem:

“So long as the Court views itself as being ultimately responsible for governing all aspects of our society, it will, understandably, be overworked.”

Unmindful of the sobering dicta that Judges have neither the power of sword nor of the purse, the courts have taken upon themselves the duty of monitoring several actions, which fall exclusively within the purview of the executive domain. Often one may not find fault with the final results achieved, but one doubts whether the reasoning by which those results were arrived at is legally supportable.

Articles 32, 136 and 142 of the Constitution invest extraordinary powers in the Supreme Court. Correspondingly, Article 226 invests the High Courts with the all-powerful writ jurisdiction. By abandoning the principle of locus standi, Judges have now become roaming knights-errant on white chargers tilting at windmills of injustice to defend the honour of the Dame of justice. Extraordinary powers must be reserved for extraordinary occasions. Its frequent use detracts from its efficacy and produces an incongruous effect. As is said in a well-known subhashita:

There are a substantial number of bogus litigations, which sneak in as public interest litigation and can simply be collusive, profiteering, or speculative. In my view, the Supreme Court should not be using Justice Felix Frankfurter’s words, an “… umpire to debates concerning harmless, empty shadows”.

In fact, the ‘P’ in ‘PIL’ often represents “profit”, “publicity” or “persecution” as more and more manipulative litigants use the court’s shoulder to fire at rivals. Frequent use of public interest litigation for dubious purposes, may have a chilling effect on entrepreneurs, who would become wary of venturing into business with the threat of liberally granted injunction order obtained by their business rivals.

2. Expediency and judicial error

The legislative and the executive wings of the body politic, which possess the core competence and specialisation in dealing with complex socio-economic problems, are getting progressively marginalised. The judicial organ of the State, the least equipped to deal with socio-politico-economic issues, has occupied the centre stage, and has got bogged down in more and more of such cases. Sheer expediency or the urge for immediate justice in an abstract sense is hardly a justification for taking on problems with myriad fine details that the court is ill-equipped to handle.

Fine-tuning of administrative details is beyond the capacity of the courts, but unfortunately it is something that they have engaged in with enthusiasm. Judicial forays into policy issues through trial and error, without necessary technical inputs or competence, have resulted in unsatisfactory orders that have been passed beyond “judicially manageable standards”. The reliance on affidavits tendered or even placing reliance on a report of a court-appointed Commissioner can hardly supplant a judgment made by a competent executive officer with regard to the actual ground realities.

3. The credibility of the institution

As we have seen, the tendency of the Supreme Court to pronounce on issues, which require purely political decisions, has led to situations where the Court has had to subsequently back down. The most embarrassing instance has been in the case of the directive for uniform civil code legislation, as we have already seen, where the Court had to later downplay its initial activist observations.

In my view, while activist judgments may bring immediate and transitory succour, if, in the long run, the judgments do not strike at the root of the problem, what follows is loss of credibility and respect for the institution among the other constitutional branches and the general public. As Justice Felix Frankfurter said in Baker v. Carr:

“There is nothing neither judicially more unseemly nor more self-defeating than for this Court to make in terrorism pronouncements, to indulge in merely empty rhetoric, sounding a word of promise to the ear, sure to be disappointing to the hope.”

Indeed, Justice Frankfurter could well have been talking about the bonded labourers and the Supreme Court of India after BandhuaMukti Morcha67 orders.

4. Diversion of institutional resources

Instead of playing the role that has been constitutionally assigned to it and utilising its resources towards such role, the assumption of a non-traditional, activist role by the Supreme Court has led to the diversion of its attention and resources. As in cases of “continuing mandamus”, where it has to exercise continuous monitoring and supervision over executive authorities, judicial activism strains the institutional resources of the Court. It also diverts the time, talent and energy of Judges into channels that they are neither required to navigate, nor equipped to, for lack of competence, skill or resources.

5. Personality driven rather than institutionalised adjudication

Judicial activism creates labels for Judges such as “pro-labour”, “anti-labour”, “pro-tenant”, “anti-tenant”, “progressive”, “conservative” and so on. This is so because the scope and the extent of judicial activism ultimately depends on the personal predilections of the individual Judge and his/her own conception of what “social justice” ought to be.

In effect, the result becomes personality-oriented rather than oriented towards “justice accords to law”, which is the duty of a Judge. Personality-driven adjudication provides avenues for “forum shopping” by lawyers and litigants. Instead of “justice according to law”, the courts would administer justice according to the propensities of the Judge, harking back to the days of justice at the Chancellor’s foot in England.

IV. Arguments against Judicial Restraint

1. “Judicial restraint is a ‘rightist’ ideology”

One of the criticisms of judicial restraint is that it is “pro-government”, “pro-rich” and “antisocial justice” and hence a “rightist” ideology. It is a misconception to think that judicial activism arises from “left” or “right” oriented philosophies, two terms with hazy meanings at best. Judicial activism is nothing but jumping the fence. The fact that it is done from the “right” or “left” is hardly of significance because to an activist Judge what he considers to be the correct philosophy matters, “leftist” or “rightist” being sheer coincidence.

In fact, as we have seen earlier, the “New Deal” cases, the Habeas Corpus judgment, the “Hindutva” judgments and the pro-slavery judgment are instances of activist Judges with a so-called “rightist” ideology.

More often than not, the individual philosophy of the Judge becomes tailored to the dominant discourse. A Judge is enjoined by the Constitution to often perform a counter-majoritarian role to prevent unjustified executive or legislative incursions into the textually enumerated fundamental rights of citizens, or to prevent abuse of representative democracy. By entering into the political thicket, as evidenced in the Habeas Corpus case, judicial activism can wholly erode judicial independence and run contrary to the Judge’s constitutional duty to decide cases “without fear or favour”.

2. “Judicial restraint is an activist philosophy in itself”

There can be no difficulty in accepting judicial restraint or legal centrism as a judicial philosophy in itself. But this philosophy is very different from judicial activism that I have spoken against. Despite the high-sounding words, “judicial restraint” only means that the Judge shall stick by the law and decide legal controversies strictly in accordance with established principles of law without foraging the constitutionally forbidden territories reserved for another branch of the government.

In my view, that precisely is the role a Judge is called upon to play by reason of the oath that he undertakes. A Judge is not free to render justice as he thinks, but is required to render “justice accords to law”. As Times of India in an editorial has aptly commented:

“Judges are meant to act as humble interpreters of law, not pose as emperors who adjudicate on a whim. We need faceless, impassive Judges, compassionate but disciplined legislators and an executive that acknowledges the supremacy of the legislature and independence of the judiciary. Sadly, technical Judges are not easy to come by in India. Some arrange marriages between rapists and their victims. Others turn into committed municipal authorities. Courts are meant to be more serious than Bollywood makes them out to be.”

Conceded that in a few cases “justice according to law” may produce less-than-perfect results, but more often than not, “justice accords to law” produces an outcome that is in line with crystallised public opinion. Indeed, if “justice according to law” was so abhorrent, then we would have seen a revolution in India and a scrapping of the Constitution. The fact that this has not happened is positive proof that “justice according to law” and “justice without fear or favour” is the correct approach.

3. “Judicial restraint would have meant no Kesavananda Bharati85″

There may occur occasions in judicial history, when Judges must make dramatic, sudden and even revolutionary changes to law, by marginalising the “justice according to law” principle. Exceptional situations may call for drastic steps, but that can happen only exceptionally. In fact, in fifty-odd years of our Constitution, I can only think of one such situation. This was when the executive and legislature in collusion sought to use the Constitution to destroy the Constitution itself.

Therefore, in my view, the “Basic Structure Doctrine” evolved by the Supreme Court in KesavanandaBharati is, if at all an exercise of judicial legislation, a justifiable one, because without it there would have been no Constitution and no independent judiciary worth the name. After all, as the maxim goes,necessitas non habetlegem.

That is a different kettle of fish from the activism of the 1980s and 1990s where judicial legislation was resorted to at the drop of a hat to address every socio-economic problem of the day, however unfortunate, but nevertheless lacking the imperative urgency facing Kesavananda Bharati85 court. The Queensberry Rules are to be strictly observed except when your own life is at stake!

V. Conclusion

Fortunately, the fervour for judicial activism, which engulfed the courts during the third and fourth decades, seems to be ebbing with the progressive realisation that it is preferable to tread the “highways” of justice instead of resorting to the “bye-lanes” of activism in the hope of expeditiously reaching the goal of justice. As I have pointed out, deviation from the welltrodden path frequently leads to wholly unjust outcomes.

role of courts and lawyers as social engineers

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