What is constitutionalism? In the 500 pages of his compendious tome, Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law: In a Theatre of Democracy, justice Sikri takes the readers on an illuminating journey through the complex and dynamic journey of the development of constitutionalism and the rule of law in India. This book is a collection of speeches and articles written over a period of time, collated and woven into a common theme of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
The introduction to the book has been penned by professor Upendra Baxi, who has given it the fitting title of “A Judge made for Justice”. justice Sikri has had a distinguished judicial career as a lawyer and judge of several constitutional courts, including the Supreme Court from which he retired as the second senior-most judge.
Justice Sikri writes that the Constitution is an instrument of governance and that constitutionalism encompasses liberal democracy, human rights, equality, fraternity, liberty, separation of powers, etc. which are essential for good governance. In the realm of good governance, justice Sikri offers a perspective that is particularly valuable and credible, thanks to his extensive experience on the bench. With over 20 years of adjudicating complex cases and a profound understanding of legal principles, justice Sikri's opinions on matters of good governance carry the weight of seasoned expertise. His unique vantage point from the judiciary provides insights that are not only theoretically sound, but also firmly rooted in the practical realities of legal practice.
In the very first essay, justice Sikri has elaborated upon the role of a judge in a democracy. It is crucial to note that this was first delivered by him as the justice HR Khanna memorial lecture. It is complemented by justice Sikri’s farewell speech on the day of his retirement from the Supreme Court, which is at the fag end of the book. In that speech, justice Sikri shared the “Judge’s Prayer” that he recites regularly, and discussed whether judging is easy. Young law students and lawyers may benefit greatly from reading this speech as it provides an insight into the functioning of a judicial mind.
In the second essay of the first section of the book, justice Sikri takes readers on a journey through time—the role of the Indian judiciary in developing and attaining a liberal democracy over 70 years. He discusses pivotal constitutional law cases handled by the Supreme Court. The next two essays serve as a lesson in the principles of judicial review and the evolution of its jurisprudence in India.
The book’s second section covers several significant subjects, including gender justice and disability rights. Two essays in this section are particularly noteworthy. The first discusses how the judicial process can drive social transformation, while the second delves into the concept of jurisprudence centered on human dignity. Justice Sikri has argued that the rule of law should be dynamic and should adapt itself to society.
The third section of the book, titled “Law’s Co-Relations in the Quest for Justice” contains three essays on the importance of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) methods, at a time when the heavy pendency of cases is fettering all cogs of the judicial system from making progress. In the first essay of this section, justice Sikri discusses access to justice vis-à-vis mediation. He says that access to justice has two components—a strong and effective legal system with rights and a useful and accessible judicial/ remedial system. Justice Sikri says that access to justice cannot only mean access to courts, it must be construed liberally to mean fair and timely solutions to the conflict and this is where mediation comes in. In the second essay of this section, he has shared real-life examples wherein mediation led to amicable and peaceful resolution of disputes. The later essays of this section elaborate upon the relationship of law and the legal system with literature, economics and spirituality.
The fourth part of the book is a tribute to justice Sikri’s teachers—professor (Dr) Upendra Baxi and professor (Dr) Mahendra Pal Singh. These essays have previously been published as forewords for books or festschrifts, as justice Sikri refers to them in books honouring the life’s work and legacy of these professors. Aptly referring to professor Upendra Baxi as the Bhishma Pitamah of the academic world, iustice Sikri takes us through Prof Baxi’s demosprudence and correctly concludes that Prof Baxi’s ideas, though revolutionary when introduced, have now become an inseparable part of our legal landscape.
Whether you are an avid follower of constitutional law or just beginning to delve into the subject, this book promises to be an invaluable resource, especially for young law students and lawyers looking to understand the concepts of constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy while also learning about legal history and key precedents. This book is a testament to the enduring relevance of the rule of law and democracy in our ever-changing world. It is a poignant reminder that the pursuit of justice, the protection of fundamental rights, and the maintenance of democratic values are not finite goals but a continuous journey that demands our collective commitment. The job of a constitutional judge can only be supported by an informed citizenry. This book is a robust attempt at informing the public of the constitutional underpinning of the Indian republic.
Justice AK Sikri
Publisher: Eastern Book Company,
List Price: Rs1,600
Published Date: 1 January 2023
(Sanjay R Hegde, is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, a history buff and a leading voice for civil rights. He is also a well-known voice in the media with his views and opinions frequently sought in television debates and national newspapers.)