B S Raghavan

Judicial accountability long overdue

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2012, already passed by the Lok Sabha on March 30, and now awaiting approval of the Rajya Sabha, has recently been pitchforked into prominence by the expression of certain reservations by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, S.H. Kapadia. His predecessors, J.S. Verma and V.N. Khare have also since spoken in his support.

They have no objection to the inclusion of judicial standards in the Bill. Actually, the Supreme Court itself, when J.S. Verma was the Chief Justice, formulated, in 1997, a Restatement of the Values of Judicial Life which was formally ratified and adopted by the Supreme Court and the High Courts at the Chief Justices’ Conference held as early as in 1999.

All that the Bill does is to give statutory recognition to the charter already made binding on the judiciary by the Conference, and to provide for any deviation or violation to be treated as judicial misconduct for which the Judge concerned will become answerable. Originally, the Bill, in line with the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, had incorporated a clause to the effect that “No judge shall make unwarranted comments against the conduct of any constitutional or statutory institution or officials at the time of hearing matters in open courts during the course of hearing matters.”

WRONG SIGNAL

I, for one, am all for this stipulation. As I put it in my column published in this paper on May 11, 2011: “Judges in India are speaking too much, far, far too much, from the Bench during hearings, unburdening themselves far too long-windedly on the merits of the case while the hearing is proceeding or even at the admission stage…. as if they are handing down impromptu verdicts… liberally sprinkling their comments with harsh expressions detracting from the majesty of law…. This causes demoralisation among parties to cases, and raises doubts in the public mind about the cases getting a fair and impartial hearing.”

However, faced with the criticism that the clause was tantamount to “gagging” judges, the Government has since decided to drop it. I wish it hadn’t.

The fear voiced by the present and former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court relates to the provision which enables any individual to make a complaint against any Judge.

No doubt a Scrutiny Committee will be set up to examine each complaint for its genuineness, but unfortunately a wrong signal has been sent by the reduction of punishment for frivolous and vexatious complaints from rigorous imprisonment of up to five years and fine of up to Rs 5 lakh (as in the original version) to simple imprisonment of one year and a fine of Rs 50,000 (as finally passed).

Once the Scrutiny Committee finds a complaint acceptable on merits, it will be referred to an Investigation Committee for a regular inquiry and an Oversight Committee will, based on the findings, decide either to drop the case, or issue a warning to the Judge or advise him to voluntarily resign, or recommend to the President his removal from office in accordance with the Constitution.

SERIOUS OMISSION

The panel to scrutinise complaints will be constituted in the Supreme Court and every High Court, comprising a former Chief Justice and two sitting judges.

The Oversight Committee will consist of a retired Chief Justice of India as the Chairperson, a judge of the Supreme Court, a Chief Justice of the High Court, the Attorney General for India, and an eminent person appointed by the President.

The Investigation Committee will be set up by Oversight Committee if the Scrutiny Panel recommends an inquiry into a complaint. Absence of any provision laying down the composition of the Investigation Committee and qualifications of its members is a serious omission which needs to be rectified.

The issue of judicial accountability and maintenance of judicial standards is of such vital importance that it is imperative for the Government and the Judiciary to see eye to eye in all respects concerning the Bill, if its implementation is to be smooth and harmonious. Minister of Law Salman Khurshid, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court S.H.Kapadia, who are both public-spirited persons with the nation’s interest at heart, can even now have a fresh round of discussions in order to effect improvements to mutual satisfaction.

Published on August 21, 2012

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

null
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor