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SHOULD THE OPINION OF THE PUBLIC AFFECT JUDGEMENTS?

INTRODUCTION

Justice and independence are pursued during court proceedings. The judges also make an effort to strictly adhere to the law while passing judgement on the outcomes of a trial. Netizens now take an innovative approach to participating in justice online as the network develops. We refer to this group as “network public opinion” since they actively express their thoughts online while also interacting with one another. A trend driven by public opinion has progressively arisen as a result of the judiciary’s increasing exposure to public opinion in today’s society. Although the independence of the judiciary cannot be questioned, certain controversial public opinion also reflects some pressing challenges that society as a whole must address right now. In order to improve, the legal system actually requires the support of society. Now, on the assumption that the judiciary maintains a somewhat independent status, it is necessary to pay careful consideration to the social hotspots represented in public opinion and provide solutions quickly.

The preamble of our constitution starts with the phrase “We the people”. Public opinion somehow does affect judicial matters. Despite the greatest efforts to support fundamental assumptions regarding the influence of public opinion on the Court, the data is, at best, conflicting. The Court makes decisions that are much more likely to be liberal (conservative) when the “mood of the public” is liberal. Professor Friedman contends that because the Court depends on public support to continue functioning as an effective part of the government, the Justices will submit to popular opinion.[1] However, our analysis is similarly consistent with a different mechanism, namely that “the people” includes the Justices. This view could be supported by our analysis. From this perspective, the Justices don’t react to public opinion directly; instead, they react to the same situations or causes that have an impact on other people’s opinions.[2]

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN LEGISLATURE AND JUDICIARY

The legislature makes laws and the members of the legislature are elected by the people, so they are representatives of the general public making laws in accordance with public opinion. When the Supreme Court rules that a legislative act or an administrative action is unconstitutional, it defies the wishes of elected officials and exercises to control in opposition to the majority that is already in place. When The Supreme Court of the U.S.A. overturned Roe v. Wade[3], which granted abortion rights to women, the public revolted against it but the revolts proved useless as the matter was already decided. Here, the Court decided against the opinion of the public. The Supreme Court of India ruled in favour of the opinion of the public while deciding the Ram mandir issue, where the majority of the population wanted the Ram Mandir to be built in Ayodhya[4]. There is no accurate data which states whether the opinion of the public is taken into account while deciding cases.

POSITIVE IMPACT

In Indian Courts, the judgement is made by judges. There is no jury like the U.S. courts. The members of the jury are selected randomly from the entire population. They have to pass a questionnaire to become a juror. A jury is a bunch of citizens deciding certain cases. This system empowers citizens to be responsible and honest.

Only the judge makes the decision regarding the defendant in a trial by the judge. Of course, the specifics of the case will determine whether or not this is a drawback. However, most people concur that relying on one person’s judgement can be a little risky. The judge may be biased towards one party.

There is a minimum chance of corrupt judgement if the opinion of the public is taken into consideration. A party can bribe the judge to have the judgement in his favour. But bribing the public isn’t possible.

If the people’s view is taken into consideration, there is less chance of a rebellion. In judgements concerning the entire population, the view of the public should be taken into consideration. Like when the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. overturned Roe v. Wade[5], a number of people took to the streets to rebel against the decision of the court. If the judgement was in favour of the general mass, there wouldn’t be any riots or rebellions. And people would be more inclined to obey the law if they think the law is just and fair. If not, the masses would overthrow the government and take matters into their own hands.

The fact that courts depend on public support to fulfil their duties is another well-established justification for taking public opinion into consideration. The judiciary’s health and legitimacy depend on public confidence. It would be concerning if judges invoked public confidence in determining their rulings, as it is with accountability issues.

NEGATIVE IMPACT

The judicial system is being followed in India. The judges may or may not pay heed to the opinion of the public, it is totally at their discretion. Most of the people of India don’t have any knowledge of the law, so the opinion of the public is totally based upon their conscience. Moreover, people can be swayed by emotions. The judges make decisions according to the law but the people’s opinion is more inclined to emotions.

If the public is to decide cases, the minority will be ignored. All the judgements will be in favour of the majority and the minority will be sidelined. The judges aren’t supposed to discriminate between any party, so there is minimal chance of cases being decided according to the judge’s own bias.

The public will make up their opinion according to the facts that are known to them. And for knowing the facts, they will rely on the media. The media may portray whatever they want and hide useful information. So, the media could sway the opinion of the public according to their advances.

The opinion of the public may be conservative. The people of India pay the great value of importance to customs and traditions. So, their opinion is based on their traditions. Like earlier, dowry, sati, and child marriage were not illegal. If then the opinion of the public had been taken into account, we would have never moved forward from our conservative and orthodox life.

Also, there would not be a unanimous decision. The judges decide at a faster pace than the public. In India, crores of cases are pending, if in case the opinion of the public is taken into account, the cases would keep piling on.

CONCLUSION

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Similarly, we have seen the advantages and disadvantages of taking into consideration public opinion while deciding cases.

In conclusion, assessing cases is difficult and requires consideration, patience, and study. It takes similar awareness and responsibility to shape public opinion. Both should neither be 24-hour headline-grabbing, labelling, or statistics tabulation exercises nor should either be a process that is only concerned with the end goal. Before doing either, a person should examine the records and opinions, ponder the sources of authority, notably the constitutions, and consider the immediate and long-term effects of his actions.

Judges generally perform their duties expertly and diligently. They do so by placing their faith in and relying on a proven fact: The public’s reasonable and high expectations, as well as the general good reputation of the judicial process and its ministers, are what primarily support acceptance and recognition of how respected, valuable, and indispensable judicial services are. By undermining the credibility and necessary functions of the justice dispensers, those who upset the balance do so at their own danger and to some extent at the risk of the process. Additionally, they skate dangerously near major transgressions of both professional and civic duties.[6]

Author(s) Name: Varsha Jain (Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai)

References:

[1] The full title of Professor Friedman’s book tells the story. BARRY FRIEDMAN, THE WILL OF

THE PEOPLE: HOW PUBLIC OPINION HAS INFLUENCED THE SUPREME COURT AND SHAPED

THE MEANING OF THE CONSTITUTION 14 (2009)(Accessed on 24th Jan,2023)

[2] The debate between these two accounts has a long history in the political science litera-

ture. Compare Beverly B. Cook, Public Opinion and Federal Judicial Policy, 21 AM. J. POL. SCI.

567, 574 (1977) (Accessed on 24th Jan,2023)

[3] Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). (Accessed on 24th Jan, 2023).

[4] M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2019/11/09/ayodhya-verdict-heres-why-the-5-judge-bench-unanimously-held-that-the-disputed-site-belongs-to-hindus-detailed-report/  (Accessed on 25th Jan, 2023).

[5] Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). (Accessed on 24th Jan, 2023).

[6] Joseph W. Bellacosa, “Judging Cases v. Public Opinion” Volume 65, Issue 6 (Accessed on 26th Jan, 2023)