Assets disclosure by SC judges may create new row


Bold public disclosure of assets by Supreme Court judges, instead of scripting a happy epilogue to an intense debate, has stirred an unusual spate of recusals that could sprout fresh controversies.

World over, society expects impeccable standards of probity and fairness from judges. That is why a judge offers to stay away or recuse himself from deciding a case where his interests, howsoever minor, are involved. Following are commonly accepted reasons for recusal of a judge:

* He is related to a party, advocate or spouse of either party

* He is a material witness or had prepared any document that was being questioned

* He has previously acted as an advocate for a party

* He has previously handled the case as a trial judge

* Judge has personal or financial interest in the outcome.

Indian judiciary has not blinked to these standards. For, in Sub-Committee on Judicial Accountability vs UOI [1991 (4) SCC 699, a five-judge constitution Bench had said, “It is true that society is entitled to expect the highest and most exacting standards of propriety in judicial conduct, and any conduct which tends to impair public confidence in the efficiency, integrity and impartiality of the court is indeed forbidden.”

Given the long list of controversies hounding the judiciary, the times are such that `if you follow these accepted principles, you are condemned and if you do not then God alone help you’. The judiciary seems to be caught in this time warp.

The judge recuses himself and gets rid of the case from his docket. But can we say the same thing about professionals, bureaucrats and politicians? Do all journalists desist from writing reports about companies in which they hold shares? Do politicians, especially those who become ministers, not influence policy decisions on issues in which they have substantial personal interest? Do bureaucrats not use their raw power to force people to arrange things for them and reciprocate the favour?

Or, does one expect probity only from public figures and constitutional authorities? “Charity begins at home” appears to be the most abused adage in India. The finger-pointing culture is on the ascendancy.

Be that as it may, judiciary would do well to follow the 1991 advice rendered by the constitution Bench. Warning that laws may not always provide an answer to tricky questions on conflict of interest, it had gently touched the moral string asking judges to look inward and question with fortitude: “Am I doing the right thing?” If he fails to find an answer, then he should seek the advice of the Chief Justice of India, the Bench had suggested.

It’s not a question of pecuniary interests alone that a judge should recuse himself. Justice R V Raveendran exemplified it recently in the RIL-RNRL case, though the late dawning of information about his daughter’s employment with a law firm that had advised RIL in a different case remains a small wonder for the public.

This also formed the core of a 1998 decision of House of Lords relating to Chile dictator Pinochet Ugarte. One of the Law Lords (Lord Hoffman) did not recuse even though he had links with Amnesty International, which was a party to the case against Pinochet. On learning this, Pinochet sought review of the decision.

The review was allowed and the case was sent for reconsideration. Holding that Lord Hoffman was disqualified to hear the case, the House of Lords had said, “The principle that a judge was automatically disqualified from hearing a matter in his own cause was not restricted to cases in which he had a pecuniary interest in the outcome, but also applied to cases where the judge’s decision would lead to the promotion of a cause in which the judge was involved together with one of the parties.”


Assets disclosure by SC judges may create new row

Dhananjay Mahapatra

Bold public disclosure of assets by Supreme Court judges, instead of scripting a happy epilogue to an intense debate, has stirred an unusual spate of recusals that could sprout fresh controversies.


2 thoughts on “Assets disclosure by SC judges may create new row

  1. whether the legislation / regulation can make really cut down and not given the slightest opportunity for private interests influence the decisions of law and politics? I think there is no such rule. Regulation as good as any, when no oversight and implementation firmly and properly in society, rules, just the words written on paper, which does not have any legal force. Not good to hear? Of course, but we must realize this.

  2. Whereas the Supreme Court Judges declared their utterly poor fortune but I am only wondering as why the CJI then was displaying wholesome fear of some miscreant may misuse the information if judges (presumably massive wealth) disclosed.

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