Judicial Discipline, Need for Predictability & Certainty

We may remind the High Court of the observations made by this Court in Official Liquidator v. Dayanand and Others reported in (2008) 10 SCC 1. In this decision, this Court has emphasised the adherence to basics of judicial discipline and the need for predictability and a certainty in law. In that context, certain earlier judgments have been referred to as to whether one Bench of the Court not following the view of another Co-ordinate Bench has been commented upon as under:

“78. There have been several instances of different Benches of the High Courts not following the judgments/orders of coordinate and even larger Benches. In some cases, the High Courts have gone to the extent of ignoring the law laid down by this Court without any tangible reason. Likewise, there have been instances in which smaller Benches of this Court have either ignored or bypassed the ratio of the judgments of the larger Benches including the Constitution Benches. These cases are illustrative of non-adherence to the rule of judicial discipline which is sine qua non for sustaining the system. In Mahadeolal Kanodia v. Administrator General of W.B. [AIR 1960 SC 936 : (1960) 3 SCR 578] this Court observed : (AIR p. 941, para 19)

“19. … If one thing is more necessary in law than any other thing, it is the quality of certainty. That quality would totally disappear if Judges of coordinate jurisdiction in a High Court start overruling one another’s decisions. If one Division Bench of a High Court is unable to distinguish a previous decision of another Division Bench, and holding the view that the earlier decision is wrong, itself gives effect to that view the result would be utter confusion. The position would be equally bad where a Judge sitting singly in the High Court is of opinion that the previous decision of another Single Judge on a question of law is wrong and gives effect to that view instead of referring the matter to a larger Bench. In such a case lawyers would not know how to advise their clients and all courts subordinate to the High Court would find themselves in an embarrassing position of having to choose between dissentient judgments of their own High Court.” (emphasis added)

79. In Lala Shri Bhagwan v. Ram Chand [AIR 1965 SC 1767] Gajendragadkar, C.J. observed : (AIR p. 1773, para 18)

“18. … It is hardly necessary to emphasise that considerations of judicial propriety and decorum require that if a learned Single Judge hearing a matter is inclined to take the view that the earlier decisions of the High Court, whether of a Division Bench or of a Single Judge, need to be reconsidered, he should not embark upon that enquiry sitting as a Single Judge, but should refer the matter to a Division Bench or, in a proper case, place the relevant papers before the Chief Justice to enable him to constitute a larger Bench to examine the question. That is the proper and traditional way to deal with such matters and it is founded on healthy principles of judicial decorum and propriety. It is to be regretted that the learned Single Judge departed from this traditional way in the present case and chose to examine the question himself.”

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82. In Vijay Laxmi Sadho (Dr.) v. Jagdish [(2001) 2 SCC 247] this Court considered whether the learned Single Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court could ignore the judgment of a coordinate Bench on the same issue and held : (SCC p. 256, para 33)

“33. As the learned Single Judge was not in agreement with the view expressed in Devilal case [Devilal v. Kinkar Narmada Prasad, Election Petition No. 9 of 1980 (MP)] it would have been proper, to maintain judicial discipline, to refer the matter to a larger Bench rather than to take a different view. We note it with regret and distress that the said course was not followed. It is well settled that if a Bench of coordinate jurisdiction disagrees with another Bench of coordinate jurisdiction whether on the basis of ‘different arguments’ or otherwise, on a question of law, it is appropriate that the matter be referred to a larger Bench for resolution of the issue rather than to leave two conflicting judgments to operate, creating confusion. It is not proper to sacrifice certainty of law. Judicial decorum, no less than legal propriety forms the basis of judicial procedure and it must be respected at all costs.”

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90. We are distressed to note that despite several pronouncements on the subject, there is substantial increase in the number of cases involving violation of the basics of judicial discipline. The learned Single Judges and Benches of the High Courts refuse to follow and accept the verdict and law laid down by coordinate and even larger Benches by citing minor difference in the facts as the ground for doing so. Therefore, it has become necessary to reiterate that disrespect to the constitutional ethos and breach of discipline have grave impact on the credibility of judicial institution and encourages chance litigation. It must be remembered that predictability and certainty is an important hallmark of judicial jurisprudence developed in this country in the last six decades and increase in the frequency of conflicting judgments of the superior judiciary will do incalculable harm to the system inasmuch as the courts at the grass roots will not be able to decide as to which of the judgments lay down the correct law and which one should be followed.

91. We may add that in our constitutional set-up every citizen is under a duty to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions. Those who have been entrusted with the task of administering the system and operating various constituents of the State and who take oath to act in accordance with the Constitution and uphold the same, have to set an example by exhibiting total commitment to the constitutional ideals. This principle is required to be observed with greater rigour by the members of judicial fraternity who have been bestowed with the power to adjudicate upon important constitutional and legal issues and protect and preserve rights of the individuals and society as a whole. Discipline is sine qua non for effective and efficient functioning of the judicial system. If the courts command others to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and rule of law, it is not possible to countenance violation of the constitutional principle by those who are required to lay down the law.”

Supreme Court
Official Liquidator v. Dayanand and Others, (2008) 10 SCC 1