High Courts should avoid unnecessary, off-the-cuff remarks: SC in special Covid-19 hearing

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File Photo: The Central Wing of the Supreme Court of India. (Photo: Subhashish Panigrahi [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] via Wikimedia Commons)

New Delhi: High courts should avoid making unnecessary and “off-the-cuff remarks” during hearings as they may have serious ramifications, the Supreme Court said on Friday.

The apex court’s advise came during hearings on COVID-19 related pleas after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre and the Bihar government respectively, said that such remarks gave the impression as if authorities were doing nothing.

The high courts of Madras and Delhi have been very critical, making strong observations against the Centre and various authorities for the way they have been handling the severe second wave of COVID-19.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, hearing the suo motu case on COVID-19 management in the country, took note of the submissions of the Centre and Bihar government and cautioned restraint to High Courts.

“Even when we are criticising a judgement of a High Court, we do not say exactly what is in our heart and we exercise a degree of restraint. We would only expect that as freedom has been given to the High Courts to deal with these issues, certain of-the-cuff remarks, which are not necessary may be avoided,” said the bench which also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.

Government officials, including those who are COVID-19 infected, are working tirelessly to deal with the pandemic situation, the lawyers said.

Castigating officers on duty is “very demoralising”, Kumar said.

The bench said judges also know that this is a new time where, every word said by them become part of social media.

“All we can say that we expect a degree of respect and restraint”, the bench said.

The top court said particularly, in sensitive matters, it tended to exercise some caution and restraint.

“It is not because we are fearful of our remarks. Of course, we are independent. It is only because of the serious ramifications which off-the-cuff remarks about private citizens may have,” Justice Chandrachud said.

“Sometimes judges make some observations to elicit proper response from lawyers, which should not be considered as those remarks against anyone,” it said.

The bench said when judges say something in court, it is only to elicit information and response from lawyers so as to enable an open dialogue.

“It is not the conclusion on anything, it is only to test the hypothesis of the lawyer and the other side”, it said.

Sometimes, high court judges are stressed about local conditions and at times, they may make strong remarks, the bench said, adding but “we must not be so fragile as to get offended by them”.

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