“Justice is not a standalone precept, but an amalgam of other ideals like socialism, democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity. They are not isolated silos because their undying endeavour is to establish one discipline – of overall justice, of an inclusive society.”Justice GogoiOn Thursday, Justice Ranjan Gogoi spoke these words as part of a powerful speech on the topic: ‘The Vision of Justice’. The Supreme Court judge, who is slated to become the next Chief Justice of India, was speaking at the third Ramnath Goenka Lecture, an annual event organised by The Indian Express Group to commemorate its venerable founder, and the values of speaking to truth to power that he stood for.Recalling some of India’s landmark judgments, like the Shreya Singhal case, in which the Supreme Court promoted plurality of thought and freedom of expression, Justice Gogoi spoke of how the judiciary has helped shape a conception of justice in India. But in what was to become the theme of the evening, he questioned whether justice was truly being done in the country:“The Vision of Justice was indeed attained in the courtroom. Not once, but multiple times. But has it translated into reality?”Justice GogoiThe Disparity of the Two IndiasThe jurisprudence of the courts, according to Justice Gogoi, has given us many victories based on a principle that is key to justice: that societal morality is fickle, and so it is constitutional morality that must dictate the terms of how our country should run.This principle, that follows from Dr BR Ambedkar’s principle that we must be not only be a political democracy but a social democracy, is certainly one that India is supposed to be built on. However, as Justice Gogoi points out, there is a gulf between theory and practice, because there are “two Indias” which are at conflict.“There is an India that believes that it is the New Order and there is an India that lives below a ridiculously drawn Poverty Line on daily wages in night shelters with no access to education or healthcare, let alone access to the Courts of Law.”Justice GogoiJustice Gogoi believes that while the former may see the ‘Vision of Justice’, the latter does not, and there is a graphic disparity between the two, which the Indian judiciary needs to do something about.“Removing this disparity will be the mission for the Indian Judiciary in the times to come. And if I may add, for that to happen, it is going to require a ‘constitutional moment’ of its own kind in the life of this institution, which I believe has been long overdue.” Justice GogoiNeed for Revolution in the JudiciaryThe history of the Indian judiciary shows us that it has constantly evolved in light of the socio-political context in the country, whether it was setting out the Basic Structure doctrine in the 70s (which ensured fundamental rights and other essential aspects of the Constitution couldn’t be tampered with), the expansion of the right to life in the 80s and the “Good Governance Court” of the 90s.But despite the valuable jurisprudence of the first 50 years of independence, Justice Gogoi is concerned that the courts may no longer be able to help the common man.“Court processes are a trial even before the trial has begun. While I cannot say if it is a collective failure on our part but for a nation governed by the rule of law, is it not a matter of concern that to this extent at least, we are defying the idea of inclusiveness? Not a reform but a revolution is what it needs, to be able to meet the challenges on the ground and to keep this institution serviceable for a common man and relevant for the nation.”Justice GogoiTo fix this problem, Justice Gogoi thinks the judiciary needs to be more pro-active and dynamic, so as to ensure that there is actual enforcement of its grand ideas and vision.Challenges to be SurmountedJustice Gogoi went on to identify some of the big challenges to providing justice on a day-to-day basis.At a micro-level, he pointed out that everyone is already aware of the issues of inefficiency, pendency, and judicial vacancies. On top of these, a lot of the problems in our system are compounded by problems arising out of the lack of “legal awareness and legal empowerment of the marginalised in this vastly unequal society of ours.”An example of how this can create a burden on the justice system is the sheer number of undertrials in prison: 67% of the prison population are people awaiting trial, “mostly belonging to the underprivileged classes and 47% of them are between the age of 18-30 years.”At the macro-level, he referred to the tension between the judiciary and other branches of government (executive and legislature) as causes for concern, a throwback to his involvement in the unprecedented judges’ press conference in January where he and the other judges had warned that democracy was under threat, and raised concerns about the functioning of the judiciary.Quoting US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, he said:“while civil liberties will have nothing to fear from the union of the judiciary alone, they will have everything to fear from the union of the judiciary with either of the other two branches.”Alexander HamiltonThe judiciary, according to him, is the last bastion of hope for the people of India and that it has guarded the constitutional vision proudly. However, this depends on its independence which needs to be protected fiercely.“I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution.”A Defence of the Judges’ Press Conference?While he didn’t say as much, this appears to be a defence of the view taken by him and the three other senior judges of the Supreme Court who held the press conference. He also made another tongue-in-cheek defence of him and the other judges, who have been criticised for speaking out. Referring to an article in The Indian Express that had called “independent judges and noisy journalists the first line of defence for democracy, he had said:“I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context – not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges.” This drew great applause and laughter from the audience, which included five judges of the Supreme Court (including Justices Lokur, SIkri and Chandrachud), acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Gita Mittal, as well as prominent lawyers like Abhishek Singhvi, P Chidambaram and Indira Jaising.Justice Gogoi concluded by asking for us all to strive for infallibility, and keep idealism in mind as well:“It is my imagination of an ideal world and I am aware of what Carl Jung had said of it. He had had said that, ‘Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.’ I don’t know how true his view holds on other counts, but as far as idealism is concerned, I would say, it should be pursued like an axiom.” We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.