Kapil Sibal exclusive: ‘Remarks on Supreme Court simply unacceptable’

‘A billion Indians will sustain democracy,’ India’s top lawyer in a freewheeling interview

Kapil Sibal, 74, has distinguished himself as lawyer, a minister and foremost – as a citizen-advocate, fighting to safeguard the public interest in India.

An outspoken voice when most leaders of the opposition are content to be quiescent, Sibal is now a Member of Parliament via the Samajwadi party after he quit the Congress party.

He is a published poet, who composes poetry on his cell phone. Sibal is currently India’s most well known Supreme Court lawyer.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, he talks about critical cases facing India.

What message did the release of those convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano case send out?

The gang rape of Bilkis Bano case was a barbaric act, which had the overtones associated with India’s fast spreading culture of hate.

The release of the convicts – based on an order, granting remission, has raised serious questions about the quality of our democracy.

I must, in fairness, disclose that in my capacity as a lawyer I have sought a reversal of the order of the Supreme Court in upholding the release of the convicted accused.

You are one of India’s finest lawyers who interprets our Constitution. What is your view of the delay in listing and hearing cases relating to the reading down of Jammu and Kashmir’s status as a state?

The say justice delayed is justice denied. Live issues become stale with time. Whether it relates to the challenge to demonetisation, Habeas Corpus petitions not taken up forthwith or Article 370 or for that matter proceedings for disqualification of members of legislative assemblies, courts have not shown the alacrity required to resolve the legality of these issues.

In an unprecedented act, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Rajan Gogoi, became a Rajya Sabha MP at the end of his term. Should he not have turned it down?

He might well have asked for it. I don’t know. It was my friend Arun Jaitley, not I, who talked of pre-retirement judgements for post-retirement benefits.

It may well be that the BJP government thought that he deserved to be nominated, given his contributions to the law — in the eyes of the government.

BJP government wants to do away with the collegium system to select judges. You’ve been a union minister and are one of India’s leading lawyers. What do you think should be done?

The collegium system needs a thorough revamp or we need yet another innovative mechanism for the selection of judges to be appointed to the higher judiciary. The revamp can only be done by the judiciary to make the system more transparent.

As far as the law minister (Kiren Rijiju’s) attacks (on Supreme Court) are concerned, they are driven by the desire of the government to have the final say in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

That is simply unacceptable and will be disastrous since future judges will look to the executive for their elevation. The end result will be a committed judiciary; committed to the executive.

What needs to be done to preserve institutional independence vital to a democracy?

Institutions, whose independence is constitutionally envisaged, cannot hope to be independent till those who run them are men of integrity and have the courage to stand up to the executive, which seeks to make such institutions pliant.

Like liberty, constitutional values must reside in the hearts of men and women who head these institutions. Then alone can their independence be preserved.

Is democracy in danger? Your views as a lawyer and a politician.

1.4 billion people in India will sustain our democracy no matter which government is in power. Like us, governments too are mortal. It’s only a matter of time — for the only constant is change.