A drastic overhaul of the judiciary has become imperative in view of the increasing cases of corruption involving High Court judges. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha is welcome, but the process of impeachment should be expedited.
V. Eshwar Anand IN THE TRIBUNE
Corruption is eating into the vitals of our polity. No institution is free of this menace. The Supreme Court’s observations on the rot in the Allahabad High Court are disturbing. A Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra said on November 26 that most judges of this High Court are corrupt and collude with advocates.
With a strength of 160 judges, the Allahabad High Court has a rich history. Remember the historic judgement of Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha on June 12, 1975 when he quashed Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli? He declared her guilty of electoral corruption and disqualified her from contesting elections for six years. His bold judgement shook the country and led to the imposition of Emergency 13 days later.
Sadly, many High Court judges are facing charges of corruption. The cases involving Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court (formerly of the Karnataka High Court) and Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Uttarakhand High Court (formerly of the Punjab and Haryana High Court) are all at various stages. The charge that many former Chief Justices of India were corrupt has given a new twist to judicial corruption. The Supreme Court is seized of the matter (see box).
There is also the Rs 23-crore Ghaziabad PF scam in which a Supreme Court judge (since retired), seven Allahabad High Court judges, 12 judges of the subordinate courts and six retired High Court judges are allegedly involved. The key accused, Ashutosh Asthana, died in jail mysteriously in October, 2009. He had provided vital documents to the CBI that established connivance of these judges. Recently, the Supreme Court rejected the CBI’s plea for shifting this case to New Delhi.
Corrupt judges in the higher judiciary can be removed only by impeachment. However, this method is cumbersome. The problem is not just a question of devising proposals for removal. The Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, prefaces impeachment by judicial inquiry. In Supreme Court Judge Justice V. Ramaswamy’s case, the inquiry indicted him but the impeachment motion fell through in Parliament in 1992.
The need for an institutional mechanism to deal with cases of misconduct against a High Court judge as also the question of interim arrangements on whether the judge be assigned work pending investigation has long been felt. A beleaguered judge continuing in office smacks of grave impropriety. Remember how Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran continued to attend court, took decisions on the administrative side and even delayed his departure for Gangtok?
The government should fast-track all cases of moral turpitude, corruption and nepotism. The process of impeachment of a judge should be speeded up with a time limit for obtaining the President’s sanction and impeaching him/her.
The Centre’s decision to set up a National Judicial Oversight Committee (NJOC) to look into complaints against Supreme Court and High Court judges and impose “minor penalties” or recommend their removal is welcome. This has been provided for in the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010 tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 1. Significantly, the Bill is aimed at replacing the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. The NJOC will consist of a former Chief Justice of India, a Supreme Court judge, the High Court Chief Justice, an eminent person to be nominated by the President and the Attorney-General of India (ex-officio).
The NJOC will send every complaint to a scrutiny panel which, in turn, will examine it and report back to it within three months. Based on its recommendation, the NJOC will get the complaint examined by an investigating panel. Both the scrutiny and investigating panels can summon people and ask for public records. They will also have the power of search and seizure.
It is debatable whether the executive should be given the power to retire judges. This power should remain in the hands of the judiciary itself to maintain the independence of the judiciary which is the cornerstone of the Constitution. Indeed, any amendment of the constitutional provision of impeachment will have to pass the test of judicial scrutiny. Otherwise, the Supreme Court will quash it as null and void for violating the basic structure of the Constitution.
Justice Katju and Justice Misra have directed the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court to stem the rot. But can a Chief Justice alone help improve things without the force of law? They also referred to the syndrome of “uncle judges”. The Union Law Ministry admits that this menace has spread to many High Courts, including those in Chandigarh, Shimla and Jaipur. In its 230th Report (2009), the Law Commission has recommended that in order to eliminate the practice of “uncle judges”, the judges, whose kith and kin are practicing in a High Court, should not be posted in the same High Court. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily should help check this menace.
There is a need to change the method of selection of judges. The collegium system has failed to attract persons of impeccable integrity. The country deserves a more credible, transparent and broad-based institutional mechanism for selecting judges. As the UK Supreme Court had done early this year, our apex court, too, should advertise vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts in the newspapers.
- Judicial Accountability Bill introduced in Lok Sabha (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Supreme Court pulls up Allahabad High Court judges (thehindu.com)
- Sweeping bill to rein in errant judges – Centre proposes complaints panels, addresses ‘uncle judge’ problem (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Judicial corruption: Pulling punches (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Can CJI cleanse system of corruption? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Something is rotten in Allahabad High Court: Katju (thehindu.com)
- Something rotten in Allahabad HC: Supreme Court (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Cabinet nod for judicial accountability bill (thehindu.com)
- Dinakaran case judge recuses himself from hearing (ibnlive.in.com)
- Bill on judicial accountability approved (thehindu.com)