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Judges should uphold the law – Justice Markandey Katju

The spat between President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts over whether there can be Trump judges and Obama judges reminds me of an incident from Indian history about 530 years ago. It is about a qazi ( judge) Serajuddin who had been appointed by the Sultan ( king ) of Bengal, but after appointment did not become the Sultan’s judge but only followed the law.


Every judge has his own philosophy. But once he is appointed and takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law he has only one master viz the Constitution and the law, no matter who appointed him. He must then set aside his own philosophy, as observed by the celebrated Justice Holmes of the US Supreme Court in Lochner vs New York ( see online ), and must become totally impartial, a quality exhibited 530 years ago by a great judge, Qazi Serajuddin of Bengal. Here I am posting a historical incident showing justice at its purest.


Justice at its purest


In his ‘History of Bengal’ Prof. Charles Stewart mentions an interesting case of 1490 before Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi -e-Subah of Bengal.

One day while the Sultan of Bengal was practising archery, one of his arrows accidentally wounded a boy, the son of a widow. The widow immediately came before the Qazi and demanded justice.

The Judge (the Qazi ) was in a dilemma. He said to himself ” If I summon the Sultan to my court, I may be punished by the Sultan for impertinence, but if I overlook the Sultan’s act, I shall one day certainly be summoned before the Court of God to answer for my neglect of duty. ”
After much reflection, fear of God prevailed over fear of the Sultan, and the Qazi ordered one of his officers to go and summon the Sultan to his Court.

.On receiving the summons,the Sultan instantly rose, and concealing a short sword under his garments, went before the Qazi, who far from rising from his seat or showing the Sultan any mark of respect said to him ” You have wounded the son of this poor widow. You must therefore immediately pay her adequate compensation, or suffer the sentence of the law. ”

The Sultan made a bow, and turning to the widow gave her a sum of money which satisfied her. After doing so he said to the Qazi ” Worthy Judge, the complainant has forgiven me. ” The Qazi then asked the woman if she was satisfied, to which she assented, and the case was then dismissed.

The Qazi then came down from his seat and made obeisance before the King, who, drawing the sword from beneath his garment, said ” O Qazi, in obedience to your command i came instantly to your Court, but if you had not done your duty i swear that with this sword I would have taken off your head. Thanks to God I have in my dominion a Judge who acknowledges no authority superior to the law.

The Qazi then took out a whip which he had concealed under his robes, and said to the King ” I also swear by Almighty God that if you had not complied with the injunction of the law this whip would have made your back black and blue. It has been a trial for both of us.

By Justice Markandey Katju
former Judge, Supreme Court of India   
Disclaimer: The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not reflect the views and policies of the
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