Judges Are Artists In Their Own Right, Says Justice Chandrachud
Just as novelists shape the narrative of the characters in their stories, judges rely on the facts before them to craft a narrative they believe to be the most probable one in the circumstances of each case. Like writers, judges are intuitive reasoners, and a lot of their creative thinking is unconscious, said Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud, at Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access' annual conference on Law and Storytelling.
Elaborating on this thought, Justice Chandrachud said that a novelist writes a story in a certain way because it feels right, but the narrative has to be supported with a plot and well-constructed characters. "Likewise, judges often have a strong sense of which way a case should be decided. But good judges always like to explain their decisions," he added.
At the event, Justice Chandrachud narrated several stories - of a young student who was encouraged by NR Narayana Murthy to think like a lawyer, an 85-year-old man who filed for a divorce in the Parsi matrimonial court, the case of the Speluncean Explorers that resulted in five different opinions on the same facts - that influenced him in the last 36 years of his legal career.
He cited legal theorist Ronald Dworkin to say that law is like a chain novel - successive interpreters and composers work on subsequent chapters and build on what has already been written. After an author writes the first chapter, the second chapter elaborates on the first and follows its plotline. The discretion in each subsequent chapter is reduced, he pointed out.
Similarly, precedents in courts serve as a chain of command, as a chain of coherence, which purports to limit the discretion that each judge has as the body of precedents grow. But judges have the power to distinguish a precedent. Underlying the ability to distinguish is your human ability to do what is right.Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud
One judge may view the Constitution as a clear break from the colonial past and question such colonial legislations while another may find continuity in such laws, he said.
Justice Chandrachud closed with the thought that the purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think but to give you questions to think about.
Watch Justice Chandrachud’s full speech here: