Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley passed away at AIIMS in New Delhi on August 24, Saturday, bringing to an end a remarkable career that saw him serve at the highest echelons of each of the three branches of Indian government - the country’s Executive as a top Cabinet minister in two central governments, the Legislature as a long-time MP and leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha, and the Judiciary as an eminent lawyer as well as Law Minister.
Jaitley never failed to add his legal knowledge and gravitas while making arguments, and as a former Law Minister and also an ASG, had on numerous occasions partaken in discussions and deliberations pertaining to the judiciary itself. One such noteworthy occasion in recent times came in when he took on the Congress for attempting to bring an impeachment motion against then CJI Dipak Misra. While the Congress formally alleged that judicial independence had been tampered under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then CJI Dipak Misra, it also tweeted attacks accusing the then CJI of bench-fixing following a raft of key cases not going the way the Rahul Gandhi-led party had seemingly desired.
In April 2018, 70 members from the seven Opposition parties signed a motion seeking impeachment of the then CJI Misra and submitted it to the chairman of the upper house Venkaiah Naidu. It was alleged that CJI Misra 'has not not asserted the independence of the court in the face of interference by the executive.' It was the first time that such a move to impeach the chief justice of the apex court - the highest judicial authority was taken in post-independence India.
“India has always taken pride in its independent judiciary. Judges decide cases which deal with life of the common man as also the most powerful commercial and political interests. A judge is not in a popularity race. He owes his commitment only to law, Justice and fairness. A Judge is neither to follow the ballot box nor is he to be swayed by the times. His judgement pleases us at times and leaves us unhappy on many occasions. But that is the reality of the system which we have learned to live with. The Chief Justice of India is the first amongst equals in the Supreme Court. He is the head of the judicial institutions. He is both the ‘Master of the Roster’ and the ‘Head of the Collegium’ which makes binding recommendations for the appointment of judges. His integrity, ethics, scholarship and fairness reflect the image of India’s judiciary. He lives by example. For both the Chief Justice and the judicial institutions, credibility and respect are essential. Once the ‘Iqbal’ of judiciary is destroyed, the institution itself will crumble,” Jaitley had written.
Penning a blog post on April 21, 2019, as the apex court scheduled a special hearing in the case, Arun Jaitley separated the wheat from the chaff.
Accusing the Congress party of filing a 'revenge petition', Jaitley exposed the intention of the Opposition and also highlighted why it was important to keep faith in the Indian Judicial system. In a blog post, Jaitley had said that the move intents to ‘intimidate judges whose rulings may not be to the Opposition party’s liking.’
“The power of impeachment under our constitution is a part of inter-institutional accountability. Trivialising the use of the power is a dangerous event. Does this impeachment set a precedent that political parties in India will use impeachment as an instrument to intimidate judges hearing controversial matters?” he had written.
Stating that the incident of a junior ex-lady employee of the Supreme Court making harassment charges against the Chief Justice of India has acquired a ‘disproportionate magnitude’ and instead of referring it to a ‘appropriate Committee’, ‘her allegations has been sensationalised’.
Explaining the cases that decided the system of judiciary in this country, Arun Jaitley who himself was an advocate at the Supreme Court had said: “Post the 1982 judgement in the first judges case, the appointment of politically affiliated judges continued in several High Courts. This process substantially stopped after the 1993 judgement in the second judges case.” He slammed the forces who are trying to hamper the institution of independent judiciary and said that they are using ‘free speech to destroy the judicial institution’.
Clarifying that Courts are open to criticism but using it as a tool to propagate disaffection towards a certain judge is dangerous, Jaitley said. “Courts are willing to accept a criticism of judgements because that aids the process of legal evolution. The liberal attitude of the Courts has emboldened the ‘institution disruptors.’ At the end of the day, they get away because of the magnanimity and the compassion of judges,” he stated.
Resting his case, Jaitley had said: “Reputation is an integral part of a person’s fundamental right to live with dignity. An intimidated judge can fear consequences of a possible view that he is taking. It is, therefore, essential that all well-meaning persons stand with the judicial institution when destabilizers get ready for an assault.” Calling out the ‘institutional destabilizers’ colluding with ‘some sections of media’, the former finance minister hailed India’s independent judiciary, said that by ‘Intimidation and discrediting’ the judges, one will only put democracy in danger. He had concluded warning: “If those who peddle falsehood to destroy the institution are not dealt with in an exemplary manner, this trend will only accelerate.”
Jaitley had practised law before the Supreme Court of India and several High Courts in the country since 1987. In January 1990, Delhi High Court designated him as a Senior Advocate. He was appointed Additional Solicitor General by the V. P. Singh government in 1989 and did the paperwork for the investigations into the Bofors scandal. He has authored several publications on legal and current affairs, including a paper on corruption and crime in India before the Indo-British Legal Forum. He was a delegate on behalf of the Government of India to the United Nations General Assembly Session in June 1998 where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved. Given his political duties as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley stopped practising law in June 2009.