Judicial independence refers to the freedom of the judiciary from external pressures and influences that might threaten its impartiality. For a democracy to function effectively, it is essential that the judiciary remains independent and functions without any prejudice. The Constitution of India provides several provisions to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
1. Importance of Judicial Independence in a Democracy:
- Upholding the Rule of Law: In a democracy, the rule of law is paramount. An independent judiciary ensures that laws are applied uniformly and equitably without any bias.
- Protection of Fundamental Rights: The judiciary acts as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the citizens. If the judiciary is not independent, the very rights it is meant to protect might be jeopardized.
- Balancing Power Among the Organs of the State: The principle of separation of powers among the legislature, executive, and the judiciary is foundational to a democracy. An independent judiciary ensures that no single organ becomes too powerful.
2. Provisions in the Indian Constitution Ensuring Judicial Independence:
- Appointment Process: Articles 124 and 217 deal with the appointment of the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. The process ensures a certain level of independence by not leaving the appointment entirely in the hands of the executive.
- Security of Tenure: Judges can be removed from office only by a process of impeachment and only on grounds of proven misbehavior or incapacity, ensuring that they are not easily influenced by other branches of government.
- Salary and Allowances: The salaries, allowances, and pensions of judges are charged on the Consolidated Fund of India, ensuring that they cannot be altered to the disadvantage of the judges during their term.
- Bar on Practice after Retirement: Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are prohibited from practicing in any court of law or before any other authority in India post-retirement. This eliminates potential biases that could arise from future employment prospects.
3. Indian Examples Emphasizing the Importance of Judicial Independence:
- Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala (1973): This landmark judgment upheld the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution. Despite immense pressure, the Supreme Court asserted its independence by ruling that Parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the Constitution.
- Judges’ Transfer Case (1982): The independence of the judiciary was reinforced when the Supreme Court ruled that the Chief Justice of India should have the primacy in the appointments of judges.
- The NJAC Judgment (2015): The Supreme Court struck down the 99th Constitutional Amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, emphasizing the importance of preserving the independence of the judiciary.
The independence of the judiciary is not just a mere constitutional mandate but the lifeblood of a vibrant democracy like India. It is the bulwark against potential abuses of power and ensures that justice is delivered impartially. The Indian experience clearly demonstrates that for a democracy to thrive, a free and independent judiciary, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is indispensable.