SC can’t stay silent in humanitarian crisis: Justice Chandrachud

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has stressed that criminal laws, including the anti-terror law, should not be misused for quelling dissent and courts must act as first line of defence against deprivation of liberty.

He made these remarks in his address at the Indo-US Joint Summer Conference on Indo-US legal ties on Monday evening. The conference was organised by the American Bar Association’s International Law Section, and the Society of Indian Law Firms.

Stressing on the role of the top court in protecting the fundamental rights of citizens amid the Covid pandemic, Justice Chandrachud, citing his judgment on Centre’s vaccine policy, said: “The Supreme Court was cautious that it could not transgress into the domain of policymaking and usurp the role of the executive. However, in a humanitarian crisis, it could not stand as a silent spectator.”

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The top court had then termed Centre’s liberalised vaccination policy “arbitrary and inconsistent”. Later, the Centre revised this policy.

Highlighting the top court’s intervention in the crisis, he said: “As the guardian of the Constitution, it has to put a break where executive or legislative actions infringe fundamental human rights. Even in the context of the separation of powers, the scheme of checks and balances through supervision results in a certain degree of interference by one branch into the functioning of the other.”

Justice Chandrachud also said: “Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment to citizens.”

Citing his judgement in Arnab Goswami case to emphasise that courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens, he emphasised that no law can be employed to harass citizens and take away their freedom.

Justice Chandrachud underscored that depravation of liberty for even a single day is “one too many” and that judges must always be mindful of the deeper systemic issues of their decisions.

“Today, the world’s oldest and largest democracies represent these ideals of a multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights.”

Justice Chandrachud’s remarks have come amid the outrage over the death of 84-year-old activist Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), in the Elgar Parishad case last year. Swamy died last week in Mumbai while fighting for bail on health grounds.

Many other cases where the stringent UAPA has been invoked have also been seen controversies.

Justice Chandrachud also cited similarities between the Supreme Courts of India and the US while referring to the “constitutional relationship” between the two countries.

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