ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Of Moral Truths and Judicial Integrity

Using moral truths to plead innocence undermines the integrity of the office of the CJI and the judiciary.


The recent controversy in which the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has been accused of sexual harassment by an ex-Supreme Court employee has problematised the relationship between public institutions and persons who hold or are aspiring to hold a public office. This relationship appears to be problematic because a public functionary like the CJI is attempting to inflate his individual stature in order to move it closer, if not higher, to the universal status of the public institutions. Arguably, the problem is evident in the claims made by the CJI, which function in ways similar to those that Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes. Both these personalities have made two kinds of moral claims that have different contexts. The Prime Minister, as reported in the media, has inflated his stature to the level of messiah of the nation by claiming that he possesses a distinct moral (masculine) power to protect the nation all by himself and that it is secure only in his hands. While, the CJI, having been accused of committing sexual harassment, has made claims seeking to equate the

accusations made on his person with the crisis facing judicial institutions. Is it then the personalities or is it public institutions that are more important in public life?

In regard to the claims made by the CJI, one gets the sense that his personal moral commitment to protect the integrity of the judiciary has been intercepted by the “false accusation” made by the ex-employee of the Court. He has reportedly said in his defence that the attack on his person is an attack on the entire judiciary. It is true that the office of the CJI is an embodiment of the constitutional values, which assign integrity to public institutions such as the judiciary. However, the constitution of an able judge does not depend on their moral intuition or the disposition to produce moral truth as a narrative of austerity and sacrifice. The CJI is reported to have used the following expressions with moral undertones: “I should not stoop low to even deny the charges” and “My peon has got more money than me.”

It is in this context that a pertinent question needs to be raised.

If the office of the CJI embodies judicial integrity and is the custodian of legal procedures that yield evidenced-based truth, then why is Gogoi desperate to use the moral vocabulary in his defence? Evidence-based and argument-driven truth is the essence of the modern judicial institution. Justice that is produced by following transparent and robust procedures is considered to be the victory of truth. The pursuit of scientific truth, which is at the core of the modern judiciary, arguably should eliminate the need for using moral language as the plank for self-defence. Moral truth, on the other hand, resides in a unilateral narrative claim that is made by a person by using the moral vocabulary of austerity and moral integrity. In this regard it is also necessary to keep in mind that such moral language and moral vocabulary is often employed to provide initial defence against charges of sexual harassment.

The use of this moral vocabulary declares the innocence of a person even before the proper procedures that are necessary to prove innocence are underway, and is an attempt at weakening the credibility of the complainant, thus denying the complainant the advantage of a fair judicial trial. The case in question is one that alleges sexual harassment in the workplace and involves acute power hierarchies, including those in the highest echelons of the judiciary itself. However, the manner in which the case has been addressed until now does not instil confidence in the institution. The integrity of the judiciary can only be ensured by following robust and transparent judicial practices in the legal institution, which are perfected from time to time through constitutional improvisation. The conduct of the three-member committee constituted to look into this matter and the truth that will emerge from the judicial process will reveal whether the judiciary will be able to maintain its integrity.

Updated On : 15th May, 2019


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